Formaldehyde is a simple, naturally occurring substance made up of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, with the formula CH2O. It is also naturally found in all organic forms of life, in trees, fruits, vegetables, fish, plants and animals and humans.
Despite its presence in all organic life forms formaldehyde does not accumulate in the environment. In the environment it is in gaseous form, and is very quickly broken down by sunlight. It is said to have a half life of an hour, which means that over the course of one hour, the amount of formaldehyde present in the environment decreases by half. In soil and water it is also broken down very quickly but this time by bacteria rather than sunlight.
Within our bodies formaldehyde is essential in the development of DNA proteins and is a normal component of human blood. Once again however, it does not accumulate and is quickly broken down by metabolic process with formaldehyde in the body having a half life of about one minute. Because the body is designed for dealing with formaldehyde, it is well equipped to handle additional formaldehyde intake from external sources. Most of it is exhaled from the body in our breath and the rest broken down by normal metabolic processes.
The EU Formaldehyde Market
The European Union (EU) is the second largest producer of formaldehyde after Asia, producing over 3.6 million tonnes of formaldehyde (C.100%) each year which accounts for about 30% of global production.* Annual sales of formaldehyde-based chemicals in the EU are roughly €9.5 billion a year and 22 of the 27 EU Member States manufacture formaldehyde. Germany is the largest formaldehyde producer in the EU, followed by Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK.
As formaldehyde is an extremely versatile building block, it is used in a wide variety of applications and it especially plays in important role in the construction, automotive and furniture industries. Because formaldehyde has excellent adhesive and binding properties, the majority of formaldehyde produced in the EU is made into resins. These resins are essential to produce things like wood panels and particle board which are used in construction and furniture making.
*Statistics are from CEH Marketing Research Report, SRI and refer to 100% formaldehyde
*EU Capacity 2009 (in thousands of metric tonnes)
Facts about Formaldehyde
Though first discovered by A. M. Butlerov in 1859 it wasn’t formally identified until 1869 at the University of Berlin by Professor A.W. Hoffman.
Formaldehyde’s intrinsic anti-bacterial and preservative properties make it ideal for use in some vaccines.