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Formaldehyde Exposure and Its Potential Health Risk Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 30th, 2021


Medical students are required to undertake numerous academic exercises and laboratory experiments that equip them with the required skills. They have to use a wide range of chemicals and compounds that are toxic, such as formaldehyde. Without proper mechanisms or strategies to protect these individuals, chances are high that negative health outcomes will be recorded. This fact explains why different agencies and organizations have been focusing on the best guidelines to improve how such chemicals are handled, marketed, and utilized in different sectors.

The purpose of this paper is to describe the safety challenges associated with formaldehyde in the health industry. It will also discuss the nature of formaldehyde exposure, potential solutions, and the best recommendations to protect more students. Institutions that embrace such suggestions and implement them will be in a position to improve safety levels in their respective laboratories and empower more learners to achieve their potential.

Problem Statement and Background

Formaldehyde exposure is the selected safety challenge for this discussion. This compound’s chemical or molecular formula is CH2O since it is a simple aldehyde.1 In terms of physical properties, it is a colorless gas with an irritating and repugnant smell.2 It also flammable and capable of igniting. It is usually toxic and has carcinogenic properties. This compound can be an allergen to any user or handler.

When a specific person is exposed to formaldehyde, he or she might absorb it through the skin, hands, or by inhalation.1 Some of the health problems this chemical is capable of triggering include corneal clouding, ocular irritations, leukemia, bronchial asthma, congenital malformation, nasopharyngeal cancers, and even menstrual problems or disorders.2 Some individuals might be at risk of developing dermatitis when exposed to large quantities of this compound in fluid form.1

The toxicological information about formaldehyde is an area or issue that people should take seriously.2 The reason for this argument is that this chemical is highly poisonous and can be absorbed instantly when an individual inhales it.2 This compound will result in severe skin and respiratory tract infection or irritation.2 Those who inhale large quantities of this toxic chemical might suffocate or become dizzy.3 Those who contact it directly will record severe eye and skin burns.2

Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde remains a major hazard in the health industry. Professionals in different settings, institutions, or departments are required to use this compound for anatomical and laboratory experiments. The major areas whereby this health issue exists include learning institutions, mortuaries, laboratories, and medical facilities.2 Students of medicine are usually at risk of exposure since they use formaldehyde for a wide range of purposes, such as completing their laboratory experiments.2

Their technicians and instructors in histology laboratories tend to have even higher chances of being poisoned by this chemical.2 The absence of proper measures and mechanisms to protect more people who are at risk explains why this compound is a major health problem or hazard that calls for evidence-based solutions.

In another study by Alnagar, Shmela, Alrtib, Benashour, Buker, and Abdalmula, it was revealed that formaldehyde was capable of triggering both short-term and long-term effects.3 Students in medical institutions, hospital settings, and laboratories should consider the nature of the problems. Some of the leading short-term effects associated with this chemical include nausea, headache, allergies, asthma, neurological effects, and throat irritation.3

Eczema and skin damage can occur in victims of formaldehyde exposure or poisoning. Those who swallow this compound will suffer from gastrointestinal injury or irritation.3 Some of the long-term impacts or implications of this hazard include bronchitis, cancer, and shortness of breath. Individuals who experience these symptoms should seek medical advice or support to improve their health outcomes.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has presented several guidelines and ideas to encourage more people to avoid any form of exposure to formaldehyde. According to this agency, it can be anticipated or treated as a possible carcinogen that can put the lives of people at risk.3 These aspects or attributes have continued to compel various organizations and agencies to present evidence-based guidelines that companies can consider to protect all stakeholders.4 The provision of safe working environments should remain a top priority for firms and institutions that want to minimize this form of exposure.

Medical students and technicians performing anatomy dissection will have higher chances of being exposed to formaldehyde vapors.2 Any form of contact with formalin is capable of triggering various health complications. However, dissection remains an essential educational exercise in the fields of anatomy, entomology, and biology.4 While some individuals are highly susceptible to this chemical, some will record no health effect or reaction after being exposed to similar quantities of formaldehyde.1 Nonetheless, it remains critical for administrators to consider all possible adverse effects in such settings and provide the right support.

Past studies have presented meaningful information and data regarding the nature of this health challenge. For example, several types of research revealed that the majority of workers in companies that dealt with formaldehyde resin and formaldehyde have increased chances of developing different types of cancers.1,2,3 Similarly, the number of deaths triggered by this chemical continues to rise. Around 91.2 percent of medical students were observed to report an irritating smell from this compound.2

The percentage of those who experience prolonged itching is around 81.3.3 In another study, it was reported that around 75 percent of lab technicians who handled this chemical suffered from a wide range of skin disorders and conditions, such as dryness.2 Over half of ordinary people and scientists who use formaldehyde in their research and laboratory activities will be affected by bronchial asthma.4 These statistics reveal that formaldehyde is dangerous and capable of affecting the health outcomes of people who are exposed to it for a long time.

Currently, it remains hard to quantify or determine the number of deaths that are associated with exposure to formaldehyde. However, a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group indicated that there was sufficient evidence to support the fact that formaldehyde has carcinogenic effects.4 Additional studies are being conducted in an attempt to get a clear understanding of the casualties and medical problems related to this kind of exposure.2 It is also known that those who use or handle this compound might record diverse health challenges that will make it impossible for them to pursue their goals in life.3

Methods of Addressing the Problem: Regulations and Recommendations

In the United States, formaldehyde is categorized as one of the most hazardous chemicals that users, learning institutions, medical facilities, and companies should not ignore. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for this hazardous chemical is 0.75 ppm.3 Lai et al. and Checkoway et al. have indicated that formaldehyde should never be considered or used as a household cleaning agent.2,4 PEL for this compound is measured within the 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).4 These attributes have been considered due to the toxicological attributes of this compound and its ability to trigger various health complications in people. Its hazardousness explains why all citizens should be ready to implement appropriate preventative measures.

Due to the nature of this chemical, learning institutions with medical students who are at risk should implement powerful guidelines to protect them. For example, all learners must wear gloves and laboratory coats whenever entering different facilities or rooms that have formaldehyde.3

They should also use protective masks to prevent or reduce the level of inhalation.2 Washing faces and hands with a lot of water remains a standard practice for overcoming the challenges associated with this compound.4 However, these measures might not be followed in every institution or laboratory. Some medical students remain ignorant and fail to follow such procedures.3 Consequently, the levels of exposure have continued to increase in different settings. This is a clear indication that more students will encounter the health problems associated with formaldehyde.

Over the years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Office on Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have been collaborating with different organizations and stakeholders to conduct various consensus workshops focusing on the nature of this compound and the best approaches to protect the lives of the greatest number of patients.4 The guidelines such seminars present become powerful ideas for pursuing research in this area and ensuring that more workers and learners are protected from its toxicological effects.4 One of the outstanding messages that have been offered by such agencies is to reduce the levels of exposure to formaldehyde.5 All stakeholders and professionals should collaborate and find evidence-based approaches to ensure that more people do not lose their lives or develop various medical complications.

The World Health Organization (WHO) presents various guidelines that can empower organizations and learning institutions to minimize the problems this hazard triggers. Since inhalation is one of the main modes of entry into the body, the WHO targets evidence-based procedures for reducing indoor exposure.1 After conducting various surveys and researches, the organization went further to propose a 0.1 mg/m3 exposure for 30 minutes.5 This suggestion is appropriate since it can reduce sensory irritation and respiratory health problems.4

Within the past seven years, little has been done in this area in an attempt to address the nature of this hazard.4 Original standards by different agencies and organizations have not been updated or changed. The only notable development is identifiable from different research studies and guidelines for future studies that recommend the introduction of superior ideas and procedures for minimizing the level of exposure and ensuring that more lives are protected.1 Within the learning sector, few recommendations have been implemented that can be put in place to empower more students and make it easier for them to overcome the health challenges associated with prolonged exposure to formaldehyde.

Potential Results and Solutions

The adoption and consideration of these guidelines and recommendations can reduce the health risks associated with this toxic compound. Although the regulations focus mainly on industrial applications, they have the potential to deliver positive outcomes in learning institutions. Since students are at risk of being affected by this gaseous chemical, it is appropriate that lab technicians consider them if positive health results are to be recorded.2

The reduction of exposure levels will make it possible for more learners to pursue their academic goals effectively without recording increased health problems.3 The involvement of different stakeholders in such institutions is an evidence-based practice that is capable of delivering positive results. This means that additional handling procedures, protective clothing and equipment, and practices will be introduced to protect the lives of more students, tutors, and technicians.4

In medical learning settings, more individuals are exposed to large quantities of this chemical. This is the case since it is used for completing a wide range of experiments, such as cadaver dissection.5 Without proper protective devices and clothes, such individuals will record increased health problems and will be unable to achieve their potential.3 The risk of various medical conditions and even death will increase significantly.5 From this analysis, it is evident that most of the existing or developed standards have failed to put into consideration the unique expectations and needs of these learners.

Some scholars and analysts have been keen to present superior insights and ideas for transforming the nature of these guidelines. For example, students working in different dissection laboratories should be equipped with goggles and other devices that can minimize the level of eye irritation.4 This practice is essential since the compound is gaseous. Lai et al. support the provision of high-quality respirators to both medical students and their lab technicians.2 This move will reduce the level of exposure and ensure that small quantities of this dangerous compound are inhaled. Such an approach will protect more individuals and make it easier for them to pursue their goals.


Some of the ideas and arguments presented above can become powerful guidelines for administrators in different organizations to overcome the medical challenges associated with this chemical. The first recommendation is for such facilities and leaders to consider the current guidelines applicable in different workplaces and environments.2 According to WHO, the recommended exposure is that of 0.1 mg/m3 within 30 minutes.4 This suggestion is appropriate for different learning institutions and laboratories to ensure that more individuals are protected from this dangerous compound. There are specific benefits associated with this recommendation. The first one is that the number of students who are exposed to formaldehyde will reduce significantly in different laboratories.5

The second one is that institutions will not have to engage in additional studies since they are capable of following the established guidelines.4 The third advantage is that more facilities will benefit from additional improvements and changes that such institutions might develop and propose in the future.3 On the other hand, some specific weaknesses or disadvantages make these guidelines inappropriate for the selected at-risk population. Firstly, these guidelines might not be applicable in laboratories since formaldehyde is handled as a major experimental compound.2 Secondly, students will have to use this chemical substance in concentrated levels or solutions.

The above discussion has identified the utilization of respirators and goggles as an evidence-based approach for minimizing the exposure and dangers of formaldehyde. Different leaders in charge of laboratories will consider the best approaches to purchase such devices and present them to both learners and their lab technicians.6 This solution has several advantages that make it appropriate for addressing this hazard. For instance, more individuals will record reduced formaldehyde inhalation levels.

The result is that they will not experience or develop the health problems associated with this compound. Learning institutions will be able to achieve their objectives and meet the diverse needs of both the targeted students and technicians.3 However, this recommendation remains challenging since most of the items might be expensive for learning institutions. Some students might not be able to afford them, thereby increasing the risks associated with exposure.3

Another issue that makes these devices ineffective is that laboratory conditions might not permit their use due to the absence or lack of adequate oxygen levels.4 These weaknesses explain why the presented suggestion might not be applicable in laboratories.

In anatomy medical research centers or laboratories, managers and technicians can introduce additional studies and lessons focusing on the hazards of this chemical and empower people to protect themselves accordingly. This approach is beneficial since it will ensure that more learners can engage in personal practices that will eventually minimize the level of exposure.6 More technicians and instructors will also be empowered to protect themselves accordingly.

However, this recommendation has specific challenges that make it incapable of delivering high-quality results. Firstly, any knowledge about the dangers of this compound will not reduce the risks without implementing powerful control measures or mechanisms.5 Secondly, some individuals might ignore such lessons and be unable to protect themselves accordingly.3 These gaps will eventually result in additional challenges and make it impossible for the targeted beneficiaries to overcome the health challenges associated with formaldehyde exposure.

Finally, all persons handling formaldehyde or preparing the intended formalin solutions should be encouraged to wear protective or appropriate equipment. Some of them include aprons, face protection devices, and rubber gloves. These approaches are essential since they will minimize the levels of contamination in different settings. More learners and laboratory technicians will be empowered to achieve their objectives.4 The main limitation is that different facilities and institutions will have to incur additional costs and even fail to meet the demands of the targeted learners. This remains the case since some of these devices might be expensive for some students and technicians.


Formaldehyde exposure is a major hazard or health problem that affects medical students and technicians. The health challenges associated with this chemical have been documented in different researches and publications. The application of different standards is a process that has delivered positive results and protected the lives of professionals. The above recommendations are effective in different health settings and laboratories since they can empower both students and technicians and ensure that they do not experience some of the above medical problems. However, such suggestions have specific limitations that make them inappropriate.

All stakeholders should, therefore, identify this health predicament and combine the above recommendations in an attempt to protect the greatest number of medical students and make it easier for them to achieve their professional and academic aims. Future studies will also be needed in this area to present evidence-based guidelines, standards, and ideas for improving safety levels and addressing the challenges people continue to face in their workplaces or learning environments.


  1. Roberts AL, Johnson NJ, Cudkowicz ME, Eum K, Weisskopf MG. Job-related formaldehyde exposure and ALS mortality in the USA. J NeuroInterv Surg. 2016;87(7): 786-788.
  2. Lai Y, Yu R, Hartwell HJ, Moeller BC, Bodnar WM, Swenberg JA. Measurement of endogenous versus exogenous formaldehyde induced DNA-protein crosslinks in animal tissues by stable isotope labeling and ultrasensitive mass spectrometry. Canc Res. 2016;7(6): 2652-2661.
  3. Alnagar FA, Shmela ME, Alrtib AM, Benashour FM, Buker AO, Abdalmula AM. Health adverse effects of formaldehyde exposure to students and staff in gross anatomy. Intern J Sci Res & Man. 2018; 6(2):27-36.
  4. Checkoway H, Dell LD, Boffetta P, Gallagher AE, Crawford L, Lees PS, Mundt KA. Formaldehyde exposure and mortality risks from acute myeloid leukemia and other lymphohematopoietic malignancies in the US National Cancer Institute Cohort Study of Workers in formaldehyde industries. J Occup Environ Med. 2015; 57(7):785-794.
  5. Hoffman EA, Frey BL, Smith LM, Auble DT. Formaldehyde crosslinking: a tool for the study of chromatin complexes. J Biol Chem. 2015; 290(44):26404-26411.
  6. Moyce SC, Schenker M. Migrant workers and occupational health and safety. Ann Rev Pub Health. 2018; 39(1):351-365.
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