Once you and I are are dead, formaldehyde could be useful. It's an embalming fluid, after all. But right now, you are not really helped by breathing the stuff. With that in mind the geniuses at the Federal Emergency Management Agency barred its employees from entering mobile homes they've stored for emergency use. The off-limits trailers are just like the 48-thousand still occupied by folks left homeless after Katrina. The Sierra Club tested a bunch of those occupied trailers and found a lot of formaldehyde. 88% of the trailers exceeded the government allowed limits. Before you sniff that new bookcase, you might want to read through the Sierra Club's findings, here.
A FEMA official explained why they banned employees from the empty trailers: "It's common knowledge that formaldehyde emission levels rise when they are closed in the heat and humidity without any ventilation."
So all those Katrina refugees better leave their trailers open all day while they're off at work or in the hospital from side effects, and sleep with the fans blowing and windows open. Otherwise: premature enbalming ensues. FEMA was not worried too much, they sent trailers out to California for the fire victims who might crave a little more formaldehyde. They've already had a bit, because it's a by-product of any forest fire.
Mobile homes? Furniture? Yes, formaldehyde is used in many glues and solvents in pressed wood, fiberboard, plywood, particle board and similar construction materials. It's also found in some paints and household products. Oh, and it's a bonus in tobacco smoke. Not even the Environmental Procrastination Agency soft-peddles formaldehyde too much. The science is pretty clear. It's a simple little molecule, just H2CO, but it's really bad for you.
Some furniture makers are getting wise to the issue. Here's a website on Ikea and formaldehyde. Here's a broader look at green furniture from National Geographic. And there's growing awareness in the building trades that green actually matters--Heather blogged on that.