The Minnesota state Legislature has introduced a bill to ban the use of formaldehyde in children's products. The legislation is less than a page long and says that "no manufacturer may sell or offer for initial sale at retail in this state a children's product that contains: (1) formaldehyde, including formaldehyde contained in a solution; or (2) ingredients that chemically degrade under normal conditions of temperature and pressure to release formaldehyde."
However it allows formaldehyde to be present in "a food, beverage, dietary supplement, or a medical device." So formaldehyde in things that we eat and drink and take for our health are OK, but in other forms it will kill us? Not sure of the logic there, but, well, as you are probably already sensing, I don't see much logic in this legislation at all.
But wait-they offer acceptable alternatives to formaldehyde, right? Well, the bill notes that "a manufacturer shall not replace a chemical whose use is prohibited in section 325F.175 with a chemical that has been designated by the Department of Health as a chemical of high concern under section 116.9402." That list is only 255 pages long, so I'm sure it's not overly restrictive.
The legislation is probably focused on banning the use of formaldehyde in personal care/cosmetic products such as lotions, shampoos, etc.; however, with a little creative work from a lawyer, it suddenly covers children's toys, blankets, clothing, many off-the-shelf clothing detergents, and even flooring in a school or a home. More importantly, a bill like this continues to reinforce the stereotype that formaldehyde in and of itself-in any quantity, in any use-is evil. Where do you stop if you're not using science to really evaluate risk?
I assume the lawmakers who signed onto this bill did so without real thought-the idea sounded good. "Protect the children"-we can't disagree with that! "Formaldehyde? Oh wait, I've heard of that stuff, isn't it what was in those FEMA things that made kids sick? Yeah, we should keep THAT away from the children!"
Well, I hate to tell you guys, but it's too late. Formaldehyde is already inside our children. They make it themselves as part of a healthy normal metabolism. Drink a yogurt smoothie? Eat an orange? Your body breaks those products down into a variety of things, including formaldehyde. As well as helping process foods, our bodies use formaldehyde to assist in creating DNA and amino acids. Want to live without those?
Worse still, those children are emitting formaldehyde themselves! (We're not even going to touch the issue of the methane they produce…) Human beings naturally exhale it with every outward breath. (We may not know if Clinton inhaled, but we do know that he was a formaldehyde emitter.)
In fact…hey you, yes, YOU there. You're a formaldehyde emitter! Bet you didn't know that average emission levels from humans can be higher than what's allowed from a composite wood product.
We have formaldehyde all around us. You are probably breathing some right now, and it isn't necessarily coming from your engineered flooring. It's coming from the secondhand (or primary!) cigarette smoke, from car exhaust, from your fireplace. Take a deep whiff of smoke from that nice wood fire-ah, you just enjoyed a fresh hit of formaldehyde.
We eat formaldehyde. Apples and pears, smoked salmon and milk, peas and carrots … the average daily American diet contains about 10-20 mg of formaldehyde.
My point is that we need to be reasonable about our regulations. Let's look at the science. We want to avoid excessive emissions, because, yes, too much of it is not healthy for any of us and certainly some folks have a hyper sensitivity. But just saying "go to ZERO" is silly.
Take this to the extreme of the logic tree: If you want to keep formaldehyde away from children, you have to acknowledge it is in them now and they are breathing it on each other at daycare. Do the lawmakers in Minnesota want to ban children?
Final note: Because our bodies process through formaldehyde so easily and quickly, almost all common formaldehyde reactions are related to being exposed to an immediate and localized high concentration rather than an accumulated long-term dosage. Most every symptom or problem will disappear after you are no longer exposed. Also, "formaldehyde in air is readily broken down by sunlight, with a half-life of approximately 30-50 minutes," so you'll need to breathe quickly or you'll miss it!