Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tradeoffs with Formaldehyde

A Wall Street Journal article highlights how regulations that can improve health can also increase costs.  There is a law under discussion that would put a maximum on the amount of formaldehyde emissions in the home.  This would affect the production of materials like "particleboard, plywood and medium-density fiberboard, all commonly used materials in household furniture."  The key is that producing these products with less formaldehyde will make them more expensive.  The key question is how much safer are we with lower emissions (manufacturers say that we are already quite safe) and how much more it will cost.  We must essentially ask what individuals are willing to pay and what the market will bear as a price to know that one's furniture poses less of a risk.  Not a simple question--particularly considering the importance of furniture in our lives and the relatively low risks from formaldehyde.

If people knew the risks and the options, the market could in theory solve this problem itself.  Just like some people like cherry and others by much less expensive woods for their furtniture based on appearance and durability, we could see a new line of "health safe" furniture that those who could afford could pay more for while leaving those who find the risk of little consequence to purchase less expensive furniture.


  1. They’re trading off safety against other goods and services they could purchase with the money they don’t spend on safe products. It’s a choice. It reflects their (income-constrained) “preferences.” But maybe if you mandate all beds to be safe, economies of scale will kick in and drive prices down faster than if the market is allowed to continue to be fragmented into cheap-unsafe and expensive-safe. Then the poor get to have safe products, too, if they prefer them, without having to forego food and clothing (for example). It would be fairer and healthier and (for all I know) reduce future health costs. 

  2. This bill does NOT protect occupants health. The bill only regulates emission rate in composite woods.

    It is modeled after CA regulations. CA advises against using their standard for residential applications.

    It doesn't regulate the ventilation rate or the amount of emitting material.

    It does NOT control insulation or other items that use formaldehyde.

    It specifies a temperature of 73 degrees. Formaldehyde off gassing approximately double for each 10 degree increase in temperature.

    It doesn't account for personal property, furniture, toys, games, yoga mats, etc all of which can off gas.

    In CA typical residential formaldehyde concentrations have gone from 14 in the 1990's to 29 in 2003 to 100 in 2009. 98% of the California built in 2003 failed to meet the State of California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommendation of 7 ppb.

    Historically, residents leaked permitting at least 1-hour exchange per hour. In 2003 it was taking 7-hours for one air exchange. This allows formaldehyde and other chemicals to concentrate.

    Formaldehyde causes respiratory issues including asthma. The typical level of formaldehyde has increased by a factor of 7 in just 2-decades. Yet most still wonder why the occurance of asthma is increasing.

    Sierra Club did initial testing for the FEMA trailers. Every homeowner can and should purchase a do-it-yourself formaldheyde test badge. The cost is from $40 to $100. Close up the house turn on the ventilation system, heat to 78 degrees and do a 24 hour test. Return badge for analysis.

    Several local families have improved health after determining they had high formaldehyde and remediated the sources.

    Sorry, but S-1660 will do nothing to protect the health of occupants. Why do you think industry is supporting it?

  3. Over 100 mg methanol impurity per liter wine becomes formaldehyde and then formic acid in humans -- co-factors for "morning after" hangovers -- folic acid protects most people: Rich Murray 2009.10.22

    There is the same level of methanol from the 11% methanol part of the aspartame molecule in 2 L [ 6 cans ] aspartame beverages, as in 1 L dark wine or liquors.

    Dermatitis. 2008; 19(3): E10-E11.
    © 2008 American Contact Dermatitis Society
    Formaldehyde, Aspartame, and Migraines:
    A Possible Connection
    Sharon E. Jacob; Sarah Stechschulte
    Published: 09/17/2008


    Aspartame is a widely used artificial sweetener
    that has been linked to pediatric and adolescent migraines.
    Upon ingestion, aspartame is broken, converted, and oxidized into formaldehyde in various tissues.
    We present the first case series of aspartame-associated migraines related to clinically relevant positive reactions to formaldehyde on patch testing.

    formaldehyde, aspartame, and migraines, the first case series,
    Sharon E Jacob-Soo, Sarah A Stechschulte, UCSD,
    Dermatitis 2008 May: Rich Murray 2008.07.18
    Friday, July 18, 2008

    consider co-factors (methanol, formaldehyde, and protective folic acid), re UK FSA test of aspartame in candy bars on 50 reactors, Stephen L Atkin, Hull York Medical School: Rich Murray 2009.09.29
    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

  4. Wow. I'll have to read over this tomorrow. Lots of information on formaldehyde that my simple economic discussion did not cover.