Focus on Formaldehyde

An environmental scientist added more fuel to the water quality fire blazing through West Virginia this past week when he testified that he found formaldehyde in drinking water that had been contaminated with MCHM in last month’s chemical spill.

Formaldehyde Is ToxicScott Simonton, who is an environmental scientist working at Marshall University, serves as the Vice-Chairman of West Virginia’s Environmental Quality Board. His testimony before a state legislative panel included statements that based on his testing, residents are most certainly breathing formaldehyde as a result of the Freedom Industries January 9, 2014 spill that contaminated drinking water supplies.

The Centers for Disease Control have weighed in advising that breathing formaldehyde in large quantities can cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing, itchy eyes, sore throats and nosebleeds. Unfortunately, these are the same symptoms of the common cold and allergies. Very difficult for the West Virginia residents to discern the difference.

All of this attention to the possibility of formaldehyde in the water or air focuses like a laser on the health consequences of exposure to formaldehyde. Why then is this substance allowed to be used as a preservative in building materials as well as home and personal care items.

Mr. Simonton says he can almost guarantee that the residents of Charleston, West Virginia are breathing formaldehyde. What he doesn’t say is that there is also a very high probability that these very same residents are also slathering their skin (the largest organ in our body) with this formaldehyde when they apply moisturizer, hair spray, styling mousse or gel, shampoo or conditioner, or make-up.


The formaldehyde in the air in a restaurant is a problem, the urea-formaldehyde resin in the Cover Girl blush not so much. The formaldehyde in the water is a concern, using that water to irrigate your plant that is sporting a Miracle Gro plant spike loaded with formaldehyde does not seem to be a concern. This is because formaldehyde is only officially a carcinogen when it is in the air

The question is not, “What’s in your wallet” but instead “what’s in your house”? Exactly what is the level of formaldehyde to which you would like to be exposed? If you are like most people, your answer will be “zero” or “almost none”. If that is the case, then you need to read labels and look for certain words. While formaldehyde might be listed as an ingredient, it will more likely be something like urea-formaldehyde resin. You also need to be familiar with formaldehyde releasing ingredients such as anything with “urea” as part of the name, q-15, DMDM hydantoin, or bronopol. These are ingredients that release small amounts of formaldehyde when they are exposed to water. This is exactly the type of thing a manufacturer wants to keep its product fresh as long as possible.

In addition to carcinogenic concerns, formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers are one of the most common culprits in contact dermatitis. That means the lotion you put on your hands to soothe a rash could actually make it worse.

Pharmacists have used Vanicream skin cream as a compounding base for many years. This is because the Vanicream skin cream formula has no formaldehyde, formaldehyde releasers or other toxic and possibly carcinogenic ingredients such as parabens or methylparabens. The pharmacies know that when compounding a skin cream it is important that the inert ingredients don’t undo the results the active ingredients are working to achieve. The Vanicream line of skin care products includes skin cream, lotion, lip balm, bar and liquid soap, and bath oil. Their sister line, Free and Clear includes hair care products such as hair spray, styling gel, shampoo and conditioner. All of these products are made in the United States of America.

If you are concerned about the cleaning products you use, read the labels. Look for soy or vegetable-based cleaners. These will generally not contain these toxic preservatives. The EnviroRite line of cleaning products was formulated from the ground up to provide effective cleaning without the use of these irritating and carcinogenic ingredients.

If the print on your personal care or cleaning product is too small to read, don’t fret. The Environmental Working Group, an environmental health research and advocacy organization, maintains databases of personal care items and cleaning products as well as guides to purchasing fruits and vegetables. These databases can be accessed at EWG.ORG or you can call their national headquarters at (202) 667-6982.


Wishing you the best of health



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