Solid Science Practical Solutions


Formaldehyde in Buildings

Recent reports of formaldehyde exposure problems have involved Weyerhaeuser Truss Joist I (TJI) products treated with Flak Jacket® fire protection.  A manufacturing problem was identified for those TJI products manufactured after December 1, 2016.  These products have been shown to off-gas significantly elevated levels of formaldehyde gas in basements. This may make the basements unsafe for both construction workers and building occupants. There have also been reports of occupant complaints from formaldehyde off-gassing from other formaldehyde containing building materials.  Such conditions have already been documented in many new homes in various parts of the country.
Awareness about the health risks of formaldehyde is increasing, and exposure risk (especially for new installations) exists for all housing types and some commercial buildings.  Formaldehyde exposure may cause a variety of short and long term health effects, including:
  • Eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation
  • Headaches, dizziness and nausea
  • Coughing, wheezing, asthma and allergic reactions
  • Chronic runny nose, bronchitis and obstructive lung disease
  • Cancer in humans and laboratory animals
Formaldehyde is a colorless, reactive, strong-smelling gas.  It is a building block for other chemicals and is added to many different types of building and consumer products, such as engineered wood products, home furnishings, cleaners, paints, wallpapers, textiles, landscape and yard products, medicinal and personal care products and pesticides. It is also released into the air from automobiles, burning fuels, tobacco smoke and is a naturally occurring substance found in the outdoor air.  
Engineered wood and other products, such as UFFI foam insulation, plywood, OSB sheathing, medium density fiberboard, pressed wood, paneling, wood flooring, and laminated lumber often contain formaldehyde resins that may release formaldehyde gas into the indoor air, often referred to as "off-gassing" or "out-gassing."
home_wood_construction.jpgBuilders and owners should determine if they have installed any engineered wood products, including Weyerhaeuser TJI products, that may contain and off-gas formaldehyde.  This information may be found on manufacturer websites, product descriptions and installation guides, or OSHA Safety Data Sheets.  Based on the types of building materials used, conditions during and after installation, and any occupant concerns or complaints, formaldehyde air sampling may be indicated.
There are several ways to measure formaldehyde gas exposures, including using passive monitoring badges, or pump and tube methods.  The sequence of activities, monitoring plan and approach, and type of laboratory analysis should be designed and implemented by an Industrial Hygienist.
GSE has been working with national and regional builders by providing technical guidance on formaldehyde issues, assessing the levels of risk and conducting post-remediation verification (clearance) testing to verify that the recommended remediation was done effectively and that formaldehyde gas levels are lowered to an acceptable level. 
Fortunately, the wood products industry has taken steps to control and reduce off-gassing of this toxic gas. Weyerhaeuser has developed and is implementing a remediation program using a specific coating that has been shown to be effective in reducing formaldehyde emissions from affected TJI products. GSE can provide guidance on additional control measures based on site specific factors.