formalin bottle

Safe Use of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is common chemical used in industrial processes as well as the research environment. Pure formaldehyde is a gas at room temperature but is commonly found as a 40% (by volume) aqueous solution, known as formalin. Commercially available formalin may contain methanol as a stabilizer. The safe use of formaldehyde requires certain precautions, and procedures should never be performed without an EH&S approved SOP.

Safety Concerns

Formaldehyde is highly toxic, regardless the means of exposure. Aqueous solutions of formaldehyde are very corrosive and ingestion can cause severe injury to the upper gastrointestinal tract. Exposure is likely to be by inhalation, skin or eye contact. Formaldehyde concentrations above 0.1 ppm can irritate the eyes, resulting in iritation and watery eyes. When inhaled at this concentration formaldehyde may cause headaches, a burning sensation in the throat, and difficulty breathing, and can trigger or aggravate asthma symptoms. Contact with skin can result in burns and may result in sensitization. There is evidence linking formaldehyde exposure to nasal cavity cancers.

Formaldehyde vapors pose a significant fire hazard. Concentrations in air between 7% and 73% have a potential for explosion, and formaldehyde has a flash point of 147 °F. All procedures should be conducted in an exhausting hood.

Required PPE

Eye Protection: ANSI-approved, properly fitting safety glasses or goggles. Chemical splash goggles and/or full face shield during activities which pose a splash hazard.

Body Protection: An appropriately-sized lab coat must be worn and buttoned. Coat sleeves must be of sufficient length to prevent direct skin exposure while wearing gloves. Full length pants and closed toe/heel shoe attire must be worn at all times by all workers who are occupying or entering a laboratory/technical area. No skin should be exposed between pants and shoe or on the torso.

Hand Protection: Wear chemical-resistant gloves; remove gloves and wash hands with soap and water after use. Double gloves may provide additional protection and isolation from some chemicals. If prolonged contact or immersion is anticipated, consult with EH&S to identify appropriate protective gloves.