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Building Towards A Formaldehyde-Free Future

Anyone within the global construction industry – from building homes to creating furniture – should know the dangers of using formaldehyde. A known carcinogen, the industry is now actively taking steps to limit its use and create a safer world in which to live and work.

One of the Middle East’s foremost advocates of a formaldehyde-free approach is DesertBoard, a UAE-based company that produces performance-engineered boards from annually regenerative date palm biomass. Utilizing these eco-friendly building materials is enabling the company to pioneer a carbon-negative future in the built environment.

Here, we provide insight into why formaldehyde should be avoided, its disadvantages, how to mitigate it, and the efforts of companies, such as DesertBoard, that are leading the way in advocating a more sustainable approach.

Formaldehyde and its dangers

Implications of formaldehyde exposure
Implications of Long-Term Formaldehyde Exposure

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical, made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The substance is often used in the manufacture of building products, as well as a wide range of construction materials, such as sealants, cleaners, textiles, paints, and plastics.

It is also a key component of polymers used in building materials including urea-formaldehyde, an amino resin widely used as a binder in composite wood products, such as plywood, and paneling. It can also be found in composite wood products designed for exterior use and in interior composite wood products.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (UPSC) has stated that residences or offices that contain products that release formaldehyde into the air can have levels greater than 0.03 ppm (An Update on Formaldehyde, UPSC). So, exposure to higher airborne concentrations of formaldehyde can result in adverse health issues and respiratory difficulties, such as asthma.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorized formaldehyde as a “probable’ carcinogen as far back as 1989 (Formaldehyde, EPA), while the US Department of Health and Human Services concluded in 2011 that formaldehyde was a known human carcinogen (Formaldehyde & Cancer Risk, US Govt). Undoubtedly, formaldehyde is a growing threat to human health due to its use in building and consumer products that release it into the indoor air environment.

Occupational exposure

Formaldehyde is a problem in the workplace, significantly for those who work with it and its products as shared in the image above. Exposure is most common through gas-phase inhalation but can occur through liquid-phase skin absorption. Workers may be exposed during direct production, treatment of materials, and production of resins.

In wood furniture manufacturing, formaldehyde is primarily used in coatings. Coatings are either laminated-resin-based or phenolic-resin-based. The latter is used only for metal furniture; laminated resins are used in the manufacture of wood and metal furniture.

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Common Application of Formaldehyde in Construction

Formaldehyde is released during the preparation of varnishes and paints, their application, and drying. In tasks such as finishing and hardware, airborne formaldehyde can come from furniture that is drying, from applying the varnish, and from drying zones.

For most countries, there is now a standard for protective clothing and equipment that applies to all occupational exposures to formaldehyde.

How to reduce formaldehyde levels

The construction industry can take a number of proactive measures and conscious home solutions to mitigate the prevalence of formaldehyde and create a cleaner indoor air environment.

Builders could reduce the potential by choosing formaldehyde-free construction products. They could switch from wood products made using formaldehyde-based glues to those without the chemical constituent.

DesertBoard’s Palm Strand Boards (PSB®), for example, offer options for several potential applications including office furniture, fire-rated doors, flooring, cabinetry, and even shuttering boards that are used in construction.

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Formaldehyde-Free Sustainable Palm Strand Boards (PSB®) by DesertBoard

PSB® can be recycled, creating a circular economy, and contributing significantly to the decarbonization of the built environment. Being completely free from formaldehyde emissions, the products ensure a safe and toxin-free atmosphere, meaning improved air quality.

To help advance green architecture principles, builders could ensure that any products, particularly imported ones, meet industry standards on formaldehyde.

If they have input into the design spec of a build, it allows them to specify products to reduce the airborne concentrations of formaldehyde. They can also stipulate that homes should be built in a certain way so that internally there is excellent ventilation.

For homeowners looking to reduce formaldehyde levels, there are numerous practical ways. From having a no-smoking policy in the home to ensuring ventilation is increased when they are undertaking painting projects.

They are advised to allow products that contain formaldehyde to air out before taking them inside. High humidity can also increase formaldehyde levels, so utilizing a dehumidifier can help minimize relative humidity.

All these solutions can help leave a positive impact on lives whether they are on a construction site or inside the home.

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Formaldehyde-free Palm Strand Boards(PSB®) with Zero Emissions for Improved Air Quality