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FAQ -- Materials -- Formaldehyde


A. "What is Formaldehyde? Under normal conditions, formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a pungent smell. It occurs naturally in all living cells and therefore also in the human body. Formaldehyde is able to combine with a number of substances to form a variety of end-products, and synthetically manufactured formaldehyde is used in the manufacture of paints, lacquers, adhesives, rigid plastics and a number of toiletry items, such as shampoo and soap. Formaldehyde is normally used in bound form or in aqueous solution as formalin. Formaldehyde also occurs as a by-product of incomplete combustion, for example in car exhaust fumes and tobacco smoke where it is present in much higher concentrations than emitted from, for example, furniture.

How is the Environment Affected? Formaldehyde is quickly broken down in nature and is not accumulated in animals and plants. Formaldehyde can, however, cause allergic reactions in contact with skin or if inhaled. In very high doses over a long period of exposure, formaldehyde is suspected of being carcinogenic. There is, however, no scientific evidence for this.

Is it Used in IKEA Products? Formaldehyde occurs in IKEA products as a binder in wood-based materials such as particleboard, bentwood and plywood. It also occurs in adhesives and lacquers, and in textile materials as a component in finishing treatments.

What Rules Apply Generally? IKEA has long worked to minimize the use of formaldehyde. Since 1986, IKEA has applied the German formaldehyde requirement, currently the strictest, for all IKEA products on all sales markets, even where no limit exists. The German limit is such that even persons who are over sensitive to formaldehyde should not experience any problems. Denmark and Austria have similar requirements, while Sweden, Norway, Finland and California have their own formaldehyde requirements. On it own initiative, IKEA has also introduced equivalent requirements on textiles in spite of the fact that formal requirements exist only in Japan and Finland."

(Oregon Natural Step Network Case Study, February 1998)




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