Referenced training course constitute UVM's program to comply with OSHA's Formaldehyde standard at 29 CFR 1910.1048

Hazards of Formaldehyde

Physical Hazards

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas, often in aqueous solution.  Formalin is a solution of formaldehyde dissolved in water and another chemical, typically methanol.

  • Formaldehyde is a strong sensitizer, and its solutions are generally corrosive, with a pH between 2 and 4 depending on the solution.
  • Formaldehyde solutions with methanol may be flammable depending on the concentration of methanol in the solution.
  • Formaldehyde has a pungent, suffocating odor with an odor threshold between 0.5 and 1.0 ppm.
  • Formaldehyde density is 1.067 as compared to air (air=1). This means formaldehyde gas tends to sink or lay low in air.


Health Hazards

Acute Exposure: Short-term (acute) exposure to formaldehyde may cause nausea and irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. It may also cause coughing and wheezing and upper respiratory tract irritation and can exacerbate symptoms related to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Chronic Exposure: Long-term (chronic) exposure to formaldehyde can lead to a chronic runny nose, chronic bronchitis, obstructive lung disease, and cancer. Formaldehyde is a suspect human carcinogen (i.e. may cause cancer).

Primary Routes of Exposure include skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion.

Sensitizer:  Formaldehyde is a sensitizer.  This means that, over time, a worker can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde.  Individuals sensitized to formaldehyde may experience allergy-like symptoms at exposure levels much lower than non-sensitized individuals.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Formaldehyde has been shown to be teratogenic in laboratory animals; however studies involving humans show ambiguous and somewhat inconclusive results. If you are pregnant, become pregnant, or are breastfeeding and are working with formaldehyde or formaldehyde solutions, you should consult with your physician for their recommendation.

Formaldehyde Exposure Limits

Formaldehyde Exposure Limits
Exposure LImit Limit
OSHA Action Level (8-hr average) 0.5 ppm
OSHA PEL (8-hr average) 0.75 ppm
OSHA STEL (15-minute average) 2.0 ppm
NIOSH REL - (recommended level 10-hr average) 0.016 ppm
NIOSH REL - C (recommended ceiling level - no time weighted average) 0.1 ppm (15-minute ceiling)
ACGIH - C (recommended ceiling level - no time weighted average) 0.3 ppm (ceiling)


It is the responsibility of the University to monitor employees for formaldehyde exposure. If there is a concern regarding exposure to formaldehyde or formaldehyde solutions, please contact Risk Management & Safety (802-656-3242) for a risk assessment. A full risk assessment can help determine if monitoring is necessary. Initial monitoring must be initiated when any of these conditions are met:

  • the formaldehyde in use is a gas,
  • mixtures or solutions are composed of greater than 0.1 percent formaldehyde, and/or
  • materials being used are capable of releasing formaldehyde into the air, under reasonably foreseeable conditions of use, at concentrations reaching or exceeding 0.1 ppm.

Monitoring will also be performed if an employee reports any signs or symptoms of respiratory or dermal conditions associated with formaldehyde exposure. Additionally, if there is a change in the process, equipment, personnel, or control measures that may result in new or additional exposure to formaldehyde, monitoring will be completed.

UVM will measure exposure levels every 6 months for anyone shown to be at or above the Action Level (AL) or above the Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL). UVM will provide notification of monitoring results within 15 days of receipt of results, and if necessary, corrective action to decrease exposure. Additional monitoring may be required if an employee experiences symptoms associated with formaldehyde exposure.

If UVM can document that the presence of formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing products in the workplace does not result in airborne concentrations of formaldehyde that would cause an employee to be exposed at or above the AL or STEL under foreseeable conditions of use, then monitoring may not be required.

Medical Surveillance

Medical surveillance and routine assessments are required when employee exposures are greater than the STEL or AL. Medical surveillance is also available to employees who develop signs and symptoms of overexposure to formaldehyde for all employees exposed to formaldehyde in emergencies.

Medical surveillance is contracted through UVM's occupational health services provider. Please contact Risk Management & Safety for information on the medical surveillance program.

Safe Use of Formaldehyde

Work Areas and Lab Signage

Laboratories and other work areas where exposures to formaldehyde exceed the TWA or STEL, a warning sign must be posted at all entrances and access ways with a sign stating:

Access must be limited to authorized persons who have been trained to recognize the hazards of formaldehyde in laboratories where airborne formaldehyde exceeds either the TWA or STEL.


Containers of Formaldehyde

All containers of formaldehyde or formaldehyde solutions must be:

  • Labeled with the chemical name, primary hazards (including the words "May Cause Cancer"), received date, and initials of user; and
  • stored in secondary containment.


Safe Handling

  • Only order the amount that you need.
  • Treat mixtures of formaldehyde like they are as hazardous as concentrated solutions.
  • Work in an area free of clutter.
  • Clean your work area at the end of each work shift, at the end of each day, or when finished handling formaldehyde or formaldehyde solutions.
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Whenever possible, work in a chemical fume hood, downdraft table, or another area with localized ventilation.
  • Never work with formaldehyde in areas that are not laboratories.
  • Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Never mouth pipette.

Controlling Exposure


Whenever possible, substitute a formaldehyde-free material.


Engineering Controls

When working with formaldehyde and formaldehyde solutions, local exhaust ventilation should be used. Remember that formaldehyde is heavier than air; ventilation near the ceiling will pull vapors past your face and be less efficient. Whenever possible, down draft ventilation or a chemical fume hood should be used.


Work Practice Controls

Each laboratory in which formaldehyde or formaldehyde solutions are used should have a written standard operating procedure (SOP) for the safe handling of the chemical. Additional safe work practices include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Keep containers covered when not actively in use.
  • Work with solutions in a fume hood or adjacent to other localized ventilation. Do not block the ventilation and keep the exhaust grills clear and clean.
  • Keep your face out of the airstream.
  • Limit the time in which you are exposed to formaldehyde.
  • Training materials must be reviewed annually by at least one person in the laboratory. The necessary training must be completed and reviewed by all lab workers handling formaldehyde solutions.


Personal Protective Equipment

Eye and Face Protection:

  • Safety glasses must be worn when working with formaldehyde under a hood or local exhaust ventilation.
  • Chemical goggles must be worn when working with formaldehyde outside of a hood or specially ventilated area.
  • If there is the potential for a splash hazard, a face shield must be worn in addition to chemical goggles.

Skin Protection:

  • Disposable 4 mil nitrile gloves must be worn if skin contact is not likely.
  • If skin contact is likely, 15 mil (or greater) nitrile gloves must be worn over the disposable 4 mil nitrile gloves.
  • 15 mil nitrile gloves must be washed after use and checked for leaks prior to re-use.
  • Disposable gloves must be disposed of after each use. Do not reuse. If contaminated, gloves must be collected and disposed of as hazardous waste.

ALWAYS wash your hands immediately after removing gloves.


Localized ventilation should be utilized in place of a respirator, whenever possible. For employees who may be sensitized to formaldehyde or in work areas where localized ventilation is not possible, please contact for a respirator risk assessment. If a respirator is required to be worn, then the lab worker must be medically cleared, fitted for the respirator and trained on how to use the respirator. If a lab worker would like to voluntarily wear a respirator, they must still be fit-tested and trained.


Employees whose exposure to formaldehyde are at or exceeding 0.1 ppm must participate in a training program.  Training must be completed at the time of initial assignment and whenever a new exposure to formaldehyde is introduced into the work area.  The training must be repeated annually.

UVM has an online formaldehyde training available.  For more information, please visit the Train and Inform Lab Personnel.


As part of UVM's Formaldehyde Program, the following records are maintained:

  • Exposure measurements: The results of personal sampling done on laboratory personnel is retained by the department.
  • Exposure determinations: If Risk Management & Safety has completed a risk assessment and determined that no monitoring is required, a record of that determination must be retained in the Lab Safety Notebook.
  • Medical surveillance: UVM maintains records for any employee subject to medical surveillance under the formaldehyde standard. These records are retained through UVM's occupational health provider.
  • Respirator fit-test records are retained by the UVM Training and Compliance Office. A copy should be retained in the Lab Safety Notebook.