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  • Writer's pictureCorey Provencal

Formaldehyde Council recommends testing homes for formaldehyde

The Formaldehyde Council, Inc. (FCI) engaged an industrial hygienist to explain formaldehyde testing methods. Larry Newton, CIH, CSP, has performed over 400 indoor air quality investigations.

Newton expressed concern that some modern homes do not bring in adequate fresh air. He agreed with our statement, “lack of fresh air allows chemical contaminants to concentrate inside the home”.

Newton explained how he tested homes for formaldehyde in the 1980s.

When I began indoor investigations, I used a CEA 555 continuous environmental analyzer (CEA) based on the wet chemistry of pararosaniline. This chemistry is highly specific and sensitive (< 100 ppb) to formaldehyde…The CEA 555 monitor not only allowed me to obtain real-time ambient formaldehyde concentrations I was able to sniff out sources by placing the probe between walls; inside cabinets and drawers; beneath the floor; and at surfaces of suspected emitters. Whenever possible, I used the chromotropic acid method as my referee method. You used your Interscan 4160 in the same manner I did.

Technology has progressed in the decades since Newton measured formaldehyde in homes. The Interscan 4160 formaldehyde meter is considerably more accurate than the CEA 555. Sample collection for laboratory analyses is simpler than in the old days.

We used the Interscan 4160 extensively to confirm that many new homes have elevated formaldehyde in room air. Our data indicate that well-sealed homes are more likely to concentrate formaldehyde, just as Newton expected.

The Interscan 4160 serves well to locate formaldehyde sources in homes where clients are ill. As Newton recommended, we use the Interscan 4160 to identify cabinets, furniture items, and building materials that emit formaldehyde.

The Interscan 4160 is a direct read meter that measures concentration in air. It does not provide a written record of test results. We recommend laboratory analysis when clients are preparing for litigation.

A South Bay woman had health problems soon after her kitchen cabinets were refaced. She suspected formaldehyde from the MDF facing material was responsible for her illness. However, her contractor was adversarial and refused to replace the material that made her ill.

The Interscan 4160 confirmed the facing material emitted considerable formaldehyde. A lab test confirmed the formaldehyde concentration in the woman’s kitchen was high enough to make her ill. Combining the two test methods, she has adequate evidence to support her suit against the recalcitrant contractor.

August 24, 8:24 AM San Jose Environmental Health Examiner Linda Kincaid, MPH, CIH

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