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Keywords:

  • Formaldehyde;
  • Asthma;
  • Housing;
  • Colorimetric detector tubes;
  • Household chemical exposure;
  • Absolute humidity

Abstract

Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent gas commonly found in homes and is a respiratory irritant, sensitizer, carcinogen, and asthma trigger. Typical household sources include plywood and particleboard, cleaners, cosmetics, pesticides, and others. Development of a fast and simple measurement technique could facilitate continued research on this important chemical. The goal of this research is to apply an inexpensive short-term measurement method to find correlations between formaldehyde sources and concentration, and formaldehyde concentration and asthma control. Formaldehyde was measured using 30-min grab samples in length-of-stain detector tubes in homes (n = 70) of asthmatics in the Boston, MA area. Clinical status and potential formaldehyde sources were determined. The geometric mean formaldehyde level was 35.1 ppb and ranged from 5 to 132 ppb. Based on one-way ANOVA, t-tests, and linear regression, predictors of log-transformed formaldehyde concentration included absolute humidity, season, and the presence of decorative laminates, fiberglass, or permanent press fabrics (P < 0.05), as well as temperature and household cleaner use (P < 0.10). The geometric mean formaldehyde concentration was 57% higher in homes of children with very poorly controlled asthma compared to homes of other asthmatic children (P = 0.078). This study provides a simple method for measuring household formaldehyde and suggests that exposure is related to poorly controlled asthma.