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Formaldehyde in Furniture, Indoor Air Pollution and How can you combat it?

Formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable gas with a strong smell. It is used to make resins such as urea-formaldehyde.  These resins are used in adhesives for some composite wood products (particleboard, fiberboard, and plywood) used to manufacture furniture. It is released into the air from these very furniture products made with formaldehyde containing resins, paints, lacquers, and other coatings.

It is also found in some paints, lacquers, and coatings used to manufacture wood furniture. Exposure occurs by breathing air that contains formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is released into the air from furniture products. Measuring formaldehyde emissions from individual consumer products is difficult because a variety of products in the office or homes can release formaldehyde or trap formaldehyde emitted from other sources.

Formaldehyde levels in indoor air can vary depending on temperature, humidity, and air exchange rate within the indoor space. In addition, several studies have shown that in the presence of ozone, formaldehyde levels increase; therefore, the outdoor and indoor ozone levels are also relevant. Formaldehyde levels in internal office or home spaces may change with the season, day-to-day, and day-to-night. Levels may be high on a hot and humid day and low on a cool, dry day.

Formaldehyde exposure potentially causes a variety of symptoms and adverse health effects, such as eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing, and allergic reactions. Long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde has been associated with cancer in humans. Formaldehyde can affect people differently. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde at a certain level while others may not have any noticeable reaction to the same level.

One of the most neglected aspects in India is the awareness to keep the level of formaldehyde emissions released from the furniture to acceptable level in the office or home interiors, more particularly the formaldehyde emissions from the wood panels used in the fabrication of furniture like Plywood, Blockboard, Particleboard, and Medium Density Fibreboards (MDF).

“To easily maintain wooden furniture, people tend to put a finish or polish to coat it. They use wood-oils, waxes, shellacs, varnishes and, the most harmful of the lot, polyester and other plastic finishes,” says Aakriti Kumar, product designer and founder of furniture brand Differniture. One alternate to this harmful polish or coating is organic wood polish. Kumar has been living in a small hamlet in Uttkarakhand, Dhanachuli, with a magnificent view of the Himalayas. Even though she was using natural products to polish the furniture, she was inspired to create her own wood polish using local beeswax and organic flaxseed oil. “It is safe on the skin, safe to eat food on and is organic and environmentally sound,” she says.

Indoor plants that absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen are not only trending when it comes beautiful interiors but helps in combatting indoor pollution. “Broadly, they absorb a lot of the formaldehyde. The leaves absorb the suspended toxins in the air that are found in wood furniture, wood polishes, carpets, cushions, curtains,” says Shabnam Singh, design and plants expert of design firm Project Co. She also shares a formula to follow: one plant for every 100 sq ft of space. Areca palms, Raphis Palms, Peace Lily, Monestera, Sansevaria and Money plants are some plants that are easy to maintain and are great air purifiers because of their leaf structure. So, while indoor pollution may cause many problems, there are also simple and effective tools to deal with it.

Formaldehyde is commonly used in wood-based products which do cause serious concerns on indoor air quality causing various symptoms and serious health issues. Recognising this, we at, Craste has developed a highly durable, environmentally friendly, cost-effective, wood-equivalent, crop residue derived straw panel board using a formaldehyde-free adhesive. For each panel of 8ft*4ft size and 18mm thickness, we expect to reduce 30kg of CO2 emissions.  We work towards crop waste management providing lucrative revenue options to the farmers and convert this waste to products used in packaging and furniture applications.

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