Face Your Kitchen
Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

Formaldehyde: Is it in your kitchen?

by Karl Fendelander
Face Your Kitchen Columnist

More than any other room in the house, the kitchen is usually the one you want to keep cleanest -- and not just because it's the room where everyone ends up at parties. It's just good common sense to protect what you eat from dangerous contaminants. That's why it might surprise you that a known carcinogen and deadly toxin used for embalming -- formaldehyde -- can be found in nearly every kitchen.

Formaldehyde in your kitchen cabinets

Just where does this formaldehyde come from? The big culprit in kitchens is new particle-board or plywood cabinetry. Formaldehyde is a major component in the adhesives used both in the creation of the boards and all of the glued joints. More and more often, you'll see labeling like "California 93120 Compliant for Formaldehyde" or "California Phase 2 Compliant" on new cabinetry, letting you know that the materials used meet the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) low-emission standards. While there are already national laws on the books, the EPA is in the process of creating new national standards based on CARB regulations, which is why this label is showing up nationwide. The new standards are expected to take effect in 2014, after decisions are made relating to third-party testing and certification, cut-off dates for selling out-of-regulation products, recordkeeping and specific resins, laminates and finished goods.

Cabinets can produce high levels of formaldehyde during the out-gassing process, which happens when the cabinetry comes off the line -- sort of like new-car smell for adhesive-treated wood -- only toxic. No matter how strict the certification rules for your wood cabinetry, however, they emit some level of formaldehyde.

Naturally occurring formaldehyde

Deadly as it can be in high enough concentrations, formaldehyde is naturally produced at low levels by such healthful processes as cooking Brussels sprouts or cabbage. And an oak tree emits 0.009 parts per million formaldehyde along with the oxygen it produces through photosynthesis. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen comprise formaldehyde, which is essentially a water molecule with a carbon atom. Fortunately, low levels of formaldehyde are easily and safely processed and eliminated by the body, which is why jogging through a forest thick with oak trees isn't life-threatening.

Some people, however, are highly sensitive to formaldehyde regardless of the levels. If that describes someone in your household, be sure to explore your options. Talk to your contractor about getting the most formaldehyde-free cabinetry available.

About the Author
Karl Fendelander cut his teeth on web writing in the late nineties and has been plugged in to the newest technology and tuned in to the latest trends ever since. With an eye for design and an ear for language, Karl has created content and managed digital media for startups and established companies alike. When he unplugs, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.

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