In pathology laboratories in hospitals, formaldehyde for preservation of tissues is used. Due to the type of work done, in the area of cut and anatomical samples macroscopic inspection of such laboratories, significant levels of environmental pollution caused by formaldehyde are produced. This should be considered a particularly dangerous product, because besides its irritating and sensitizing action, it’s classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as carcinogenic. In this case there is no scientific information to ensure “safe” exposures, so to keep the exposure below a certain maximum value will not completely avoid the risk, although it may limit it. Therefore, new systems to carry out the correct exposure control and to achieve a decrease in environmental levels are continuously developing.
Formaldehyde at low concentrations have health effects, causes eye, respiratory tract and skin irritation, and also acts as a skin sensitizer. Inhalation of formaldehyde at high concentrations causes severe irritation to the respiratory tract and can even cause death.
Regarding the environmental limit, formaldehyde only has limit value for short exposures (15 minutes) (VLA-EC). The last published by the National Institute for Safety and Health at Work (2013) is 0.3 ppm (0.37 mg/m3) with notes:
- Sen: Sensitizer. Substance that, by inhalation or skin penetration can cause a hypersensitivity reaction.
- Y: Recently reclassified by IARC on Group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans) to Group 1 (carcinogenic to humans).