Chemical formaldehyde can be found in many of stains, paints, and resins used in wood products. Especially problematic are manufactured sheet-good products such as MDF (medium-density-fiberboard) and plywoods, in which the bonding resins may have a high level of formaldehyde. Because the carcass construction of most cabinets usually makes use of manufactured products such as particleboard and plywood, these are prime sources of formaldehyde in the home.
The Health Risks of Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound that is used in the production of industrial resins of all kinds. The compound may readily outgas from the glues and resins used in furniture, putting gaseous formaldehyde into the air of your home. Other possible sources of formaldehyde include foam insulations and carpeting.
Even in relatively small doses, formaldehyde in the air can pose health risks, as described by the National Cancer Institute:
When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction to the same level of exposure.
Of particular concern is the presence of formaldehyde in the cribs, changing tables, and other furniture in infant's rooms.
Several years ago a report by the California Research and Policy Center found that
...baby nursery cribs, changing tables, and dressers can emit formaldehyde at levels linked with increased risk of childhood allergies and asthma."
Studies have shown that in prolonged exposure, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin.
California, in fact, requires manufacturers of furniture and other products to print warnings on any products that may outgas formaldehyde and other chemicals. The potential danger of formaldehyde outgassing from furniture and other products around the home are very real.
Buying Furniture that Is Formaldehyde-Free
It is pretty easy to find kitchen cabinets that have been manufactured with minimal levels of formaldehyde. The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA), a trade association, offers certification of low-formaldehyde products through its Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP).
But if you want to buy kitchen cabinets that are entirely free of formaldehyde, the search can be more difficult. One option is to find a local cabinetmaker who is willing to build custom cabinets using formaldehyde-free materials.
Another option is to contact a manufacturer or supplier who offers formaldehyde-free products. Here is a partial list of sources, along with product descriptions offered on their web sites. It is by no means exhaustive, but it is a start.
- Responsibly harvested solid wood
- Formaldehyde-free plywood boxes
- Nontoxic water-based glues and finishes
- 3/4-inch PureBond plywood with formaldehyde-free adhesives
- No oil or solvent based stains or coatings
- Waterborne stains, paints, and coatings
- Formaldehyde-free adhesives on all particleboard and MDF
- Cabinetry uses formaldehyde-free bonding agent to make plywood
- FSC-certified wood doors and drawers
- Low or zero VOC finishes
- FSC-certified woods and rapidly renewable bamboo
- Base units constructed from FSC-certified panels
- Laminate fronts have FSC-certified birch veneer cores
- Responsible woods
- No-added formaldehyde agriboard case/drawer materials
- Low VOC glues, adhesives and finishes
- EcoCore box option contains no urea formaldehyde
- Pine-core particleboard composed of 100% recycled or reclaimed wood fiber content
- Fiber content comes from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber
- FSC-certified hardwoods
- Formaldehyde-free kitchen cabinets
- Reclaimed woods
- Organic upholstery materials
- Natural finishes
- Solid wood frames, no plywood or particleboard