The U.S. government's National Toxicology Program released a report on June 10 identifying formaldehyde, the laboratory preservative that is also used in products from shampoos to furniture, as a human carcinogen.
According to the Report on Carcinogens (RoC), "Prior editions of the RoC had listed formaldehyde as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, and following a rigorous scientific review, formaldehyde is now reassigned to the category known to be a human carcinogen."
This news may be of concern to parents because of its common presence in home building materials from kitchen cabinets to nursery furniture that's made with pressboard and particleboard (the resins used to hold these boards together commonly contain formaldehyde.). In 2009, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released a report identifying traces of formaldehyde in a number of cosmetic products as well, including Johnson's iconic baby shampoo. There is some debate over this claim, and particularly over the levels of exposure a child would have from any given shampoo or soap product.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics lists cosmetic ingredients that are chemical markers for formaldehyde:
Avoid using products that list ingredients that may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, including sodium myreth sulfate, PEG compounds and chemicals that include the clauses "xynol," "ceteareth" and "oleth." Similarly, avoid products that contain formaldehye-releasing preservatives, including quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.
And parents who want to avoid exposure from furniture products, can start by following these recommendations from the RoC:
Use lower-emitting pressed wood products, such as those that are labeled CARB (California Air Resources Board) Phase 1 or Phase 2 compliant, or made with ULEF (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde) or NAF (no-added formaldehyde) resins.
Ask manufacturers about products.
Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into the home. Open windows and use fans to bring in fresh air.
Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.