Friday, June 12, 2009

A Silent Killer

by Jean Henry Mead

Is your bedroom furniture making you sick?

I was surparised to learn that forty-six billion pounds of formaldehyde are produced annually and used in the manufacture of furniture, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, plywood, wall paneling, cosmetics, adhesives and other household products.

Formaldehyde is especially toxic in bedroom furniture manufactured in China and other foreign countries. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to buy furniture that doesn't contain formaldehyde. If you can find an American furniture manufacturer still in business, it will cost a small fortune to order a relatively formaldehyde-free bedroom suite.

Formaldehyde is not only toxic and allergenic but carcinogenic. The resins are used mainly in construction materials and are the source of one of the most common indoor air pollutants. At concentrations above 0.1 ppm, formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and mucous membranes. When inhaled at this concentration, it also causes headaches, burning throats, difficulty breathing and asthma symptoms. I know because I’ve suffered them all. We recently got rid of our cherry wood bedroom set, which was manufactured in China where most furniture sold in this country now originates. Pity the poor workers who assemble furniture on a regular basis. Even one of the factory secretaries said that she has to have her eyes checked every three weeks for toxicity.

The problem now is finding a replacement bedroom suite. For $8,000 or more, a furniture manufacturer will build a bedroom suite that contains specially ordered glue and wood that is purportedly formaldehyde-free. However, I was told by a Montana manufacturer that no formaldehyde-free plywood exists. I did some research and found that a company called Eco-Wise in Austin, Texas, produces such a plywood, so I called the furniture company to tell them about it.

I was then told, “That’s just the new California standards that take effect next year. The plywood is not entirely formaldehyde-free. And it’s going to be terribly expensive.” How expensive can enough plywood for the dresser drawers cost at $77.95 to $89.95 for a 4 x 8 sheet? I called Eco-Wise and was told to call back later when the supervisor was in. In the meantime I could research “MDS plywood” online. That was a dead end because everyone I called, and was referred to, had no idea whether formaldehyde exists in their product, but they referred me to suppliers "who might know."

Salesmen, managers and supervisors didn’t know. So I decided to call Eco-Wise again. While waiting for a call-back, I did further research on formaldehyde. The Columbia Encyclopedia says that “Formaldehyde, or HCHO, at standard temperatures and conditions is a flammable, poisonous, colorless gas with a suffocating odor. It’s used in the preparation of dyes, in the production of Bakelike, other plastics and synthetic resins, and for several other purposes. The IUPAC name for formaldehyde is methanal.“

The Wikipedia warns that methanal “is a toxic chemical. Drinking even small amounts can cause blindness.” At room temperature it’s a polar liquid used as antifreeze, solvent, fuel, and denaturant for ethanol.”

No wonder I’ve had blurred vision when getting up during the night. Isn’t it comforting to know that most of us have been sleeping with all these toxic chemicals? I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to replace our furnitute to cut down a tree and build our own.

One good piece of information came from one of my phone calls. The Eco-Wise supervisor told me that those who can't afford a nearly formalgahyde-free bedroom suite can spray or paint their furniture with a product called Safe Seal. The coating seals in toxic fumes at a rate of 90% effective. That's great but something needs to be done at the federal level because manufacturers are either oblivious to the health problems their products are causing, or they simply don't care. Especially sensitive to the toxic fumes are small children and the elderly.

California has taken a step in the right direction with a limited ban on formaldehyde products, scheduled to take effect next year, but much more needs to be done.


Unknown said...

Jean, you are a wonder. I had no idea about any of this. Pretty spooky stuff. Thanks for the article. I learned something new today, something I never would have thought of. You seem to be everywhere at once, and you're moving, too. I do not know how you do it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Kirton said...

Scary stuff, Jean - but the actual post is a tribute to your thoroughness as a blogger. I can only echo what Ben said - I don't know how you do it. You put the rest of us to shame.

Todd said...

I might have something you all would be interested in. I'm with a company that makes readily-available hardwood plywood panels with no added urea formaldehyde. We use a soy-based technology to glue the wood together, called "PureBond." We have recruited a network of quality-oriented fabricators who know how to make "green" furniture and cabinets - you can find a directory of them at our website at We're trying to take the "mystery" out of sourcing well-made and formaldehyde-free finished products!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you all for the kind words. My journalism background helps with research, and when your health is at stake, you stick to the subject like a bulldog to a burglar.

Thank you, Todd, for the PureBond information. I'll pass it on to the Montana furniture manufacturer although they're not too happy with me telling them where to acquire their supplies. Will PureBond sell us just enough materials to build our own bedroom set?

Thanks, also, Ross. I'll take a look.

Jaden Terrell said...

Jean, another well-written and well-researched post.

Thank you!

Mark W. Danielson said...

One summer while in college I was working as a mobile home handyman. Trailer homes made in the 50s were framed in real wood, but that stopped early on with artificial products. One benefit of these mobile homes/campers is they tended to leak air, thus the poisons from artificial woods weren't terrbily harmful, but as homes have become more efficient, these poisons tend to remain trapped inside. Since artificial products are now being used in every type of home, it is wise to circulate fresh air into the house whenever possible. Since I don't envision quality returning back to the way it once was, we must be the vigilant ones.

Chester Campbell said...

When did all this nonsense start, Jean? I think my bedroom furniture dates back to the sixties or seventies.

Jean Henry Mead said...


If you're not suffering from headaches, breathing problems and blurred vision, I wouldn't worry about formaldehyde fumes. I haven't had time to fully research the subject, but I do know that NAFTA not only brought us economic disaster, it opened us up to all kinds of problems with Chinese products. Their furniture is loaded with formaldehyde and nearly all furniture sold in this country now comes from China.

As Mark said, it's a good idea to air out your house, especially your bedroom, every day to get rid of any toxic fumes.

Helen Ginger said...

Jean, when you decide to find out something, you go all out! And thank you for doing so.

Straight From Hel

Anonymous said...


I'm somewhar confused by your post. NAFTA refers to Canada and Mexico, not China.

My complaint with NAFTA is food. I absolutely refuse to buy produce from Mexico, and I quit buying tomatoes from Canada on general principles.

Furniture: I just bought a recliner. It's cheap but it was made in Mississippi. In the days when I could afford to buy good furniture, I bought brands that came from North Carolina.

Airing out the house: I wish! This Oklahoma air is worse outside than inside!

Pat Browning

Jean Henry Mead said...

Pat, You're right about NAFTA, but I still associate it as opening the international doors to cheap, unhealthy products. We avoid Mexican products too and Canadian baked goods contain ingredients from China that literally make me sick.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Beth and Helen, thank you for the kind words.

Chester, I forgot to mention that formaldehyde has also been linked to serious cases of depression.

And then there are all those FEMA trailers saturated with formaldehyde that caused illnesses in Katrina survivers.

Anonymous said...


I keep forgetting that Montana is on the Canadian border, so of course they would send baked goods.

I'm close to Texas and Arkansas. I get eggs from Arkansas and am quite attached to their logo "Heidi The Hen" -- lol.

I get canned Osage "raggedy" peaches from Georgia.

Today I bought strawberries from Watsonville, Calif. The local stores are selling more and more produce from California. I buy it just to assuage my "homesickness" for the San Joaquin Valley.

I buy Vidalia onions in season, but really miss those big sweet reds from California.

We have wonderful local milk, ice cream and meat. Can't beat Oklahoma for beef.

Except for Sara Lee's whole wheat bread, I do my own baking. I keep homemade biscuits and cornbread in my fridge-freezer.

I'm making myself hungry!

Pat Browning

Chester Campbell said...

I guess my furniture must be in good shape, Jean. I'm about as un-depressed a person as you can find.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good for you, Pat. I also miss the San Joaquin Valley and all the fresh produce and walnuts. We recently bought ten years' worth of organic seeds and a greenhouse. We're not taking any chances on GMO foods.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm glad to hear that you're in the clear, Chester. By the way, I'm feeling much better since we trashed our bedroom suite. I just got a call from the Montana furniture factory. They now want $1,000 more to make us formaldehyde-free furniture. They just lost a sale.

Rich Murray said...

re huge reduction in preterm births: folic acid prevents harm from formaldehyde and formic acid made by body from methanol in alcohol drinks and aspartame, BM Kapur, DC Lehotay, PL Carlen at U. Toronto, Alc Clin Exp Res 2007 Dec: Rich Murray 2009.05.12
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Of course, everyone chooses, as a natural priority, to enjoy
peace, joy, and love by helping to find, quickly share, and positively
act upon evidence about healthy and safe food, drink, and

Rich Murray, MA Room For All
505-501-2298 1943 Otowi Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505 new primary archive
group with 140 members, 1,572 posts in a public archive
group with 1191 members, 23,458 posts in a public archive
Bukowski R, Malone FD, Porter FT, Nyberg DA, Comstock CH, et al. (2009)
Preconceptional Folate Supplementation and the Risk of Spontaneous Preterm
Birth: A Cohort Study. PLoS Med 6(5): e1000061.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000061 free full text, public access
PLoS Medicine 11 May 2009

"Hispanic ethnicity, black or Asian race, nulliparity, and prior preterm
birth were associated with higher risk of spontaneous preterm birth (Table
3). The effects of Hispanic ethnicity, black or Asian race, nulliparity, and
prior preterm birth were stronger for early spontaneous preterm birth.
Maternal age and smoking did not have significant effects after adjustment
for remaining characteristics (Table 3)."
[ Note by Rich Murray: Due to some genetic mutations that impair the role of
folic acid in safely metabolizing methanol, often an over one part in
ten-thousand impurity in alcohol drinks, non-whites are more vulnerable to
alcohol intoxication, hangover, and toxicity -- and probaby harm to the
fetus. The unexamined co-factors of alcohol and aspartame drink exposure may
be potent enough to dominate the cohort data. ]

methanol impurity in alcohol drinks [ and aspartame ] is turned into
neurotoxic formic acid, prevented by folic acid, re Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,
BM Kapur, DC Lehotay, PL Carlen at U. Toronto, Alc Clin Exp Res 2007 Dec.
plain text: detailed biochemistry, CL Nie et al. 2007.07.18: Murray
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Brief Summary:

Methanol in small amounts is present along with ethanol in beverage
[Murray: and about the same amounts from aspartame diet sodas]

The body's natural enzymes preferentially metabolize ethanol while
methanol breaks down into highly neurotoxic Formic Acid.

Use of high levels of Folic Acid was found to inhibit brain damage
caused by the methanol.

The use of Folic Acid during pregnancy has been recommended
for several years to prevent neural tube defects.

However, this study indicates that even higher levels of Folic Acid
can be very beneficial to the developing baby, particularly where
alcohol exposure is a factor.

Folic Acid is mandated as an additive to all flour sold in Canada.

The debate has begun on its required addition to all beverage
alcohol to help mitigate damage caused to both infants and adults.


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