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Formaldehyde is one of the most common chemicals in use today. Besides its use as a preservative in medical laboratories and as an embalming agent, it is also used in the manufacture of urea, phenol, and melamine resins. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that approximately 2.1 million workers are exposed to formaldehyde.

Studies indicate that formaldehyde is a potential human carcinogen. Long-term respiratory exposure is reported to be associated with an increased risk of cancer of the nose and accessory sinuses and nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal cancer in humans. Short term (acute) airborne exposures at concentrations from 0.05 to 3.0 parts per million (ppm) may cause redness, itching, pain, blurred vision, and mild tearing. Concentrations from 4 to 20 ppm may cause profuse tearing and damage to the eye. Activities where exposure to formaldehyde is possible are during preservation of specimens, examining specimens, and storage of specimens. These areas should be initially and periodically assessed for exposures.

Applicable University Policy

UMD Formaldehyde Plan

Applicable Regulations

  • 29 CFR 1910.1048 - Formaldehyde (OSHA - General Industry)
  • 29CFR 1926.1148 - Formaldehyde (OSHA - Construction)

Summary of Requirements

Initial monitoring:
All employees who may be exposed at or above the Action Level of 0.5 parts per million (ppm) in an 8-hour shift (Time Weighted Average TWA); or, the Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) of 2.0 ppm averaged over any 15-minute period during the work shift.

Periodic monitoring: 
Exposures to at or above the action level, monitoring must be repeated every 6 months for exposures at or above the STEL, repeat monitoring at least once a year during worst case conditions.

Termination of monitoring: 
If the results from two consecutive sampling periods, taken at least 7 days apart indicate employee exposure below the action level and the STEL, monitoring may be discontinued -- unless there is a change in the product or the process.

Regulated Areas 
Regulated areas shall be established where airborne formaldehyde concentrations exceed the TWA and STEL. Danger signs shall be posted at entrances and access ways. Access shall be limited to authorized persons.

Control Methods 
Engineering controls and work practices shall be institutes to maintain exposures below the TWA and STEL. Where necessary, supplement controls with respiratory protection.

Respiratory Protection 
Where respirators are required, they will be provided at no cost to the employee, and will reduce formaldehyde exposures to levels at or below the TWA and STEL. Whenever a respirator is required, a respiratory protection program conforming with OSHA regulations will be instituted.

Protective Equipment and Clothing 
No skin or eye contact will be permitted with liquids containing more than 1 percent formaldehyde. Protection will be prevented by the use of impervious material such as gloves or aprons for the body, and face shields and chemical goggles for the face.

Hygienic Practices 
Change rooms will be provided for employees required to change from work clothing into protective clothing to prevent skin contact. Emergency showers will be located in areas where employees' skin may be splashed with solutions containing 10% or greater formaldehyde. Emergency eye washes will be located in areas where employees' eyes may be splashed with solutions containing 0.1% or greater formaldehyde.

Preventative maintenance of equipment, including surveys for leaks, will be performed regularly. In areas where spillage may occur, provisions will be made to contain spills, decontaminate the work area, and dispose of the waste. Employees repairing equipment leaks and cleaning up spills will be properly trained and will wear suitable protective equipment. Formaldehyde contaminated waste will be disposed of by following UMD waste disposal guidelines.

Medical Surveillance

Institute medical surveillance programs for all employees exposed to formaldehyde at concentrations at or exceeding the Action Level or exceeding the STEL. Medical disease questionnaires and medical examinations shall be administered. All medical procedures will be performed by or directly supervised by a licensed physician.


All employees who are assigned to workplaces where there is exposure to formaldehyde at or above 0.1 ppm shall participate in a training program. Training shall be provided at the time of initial assignment and whenever a new exposure to formaldehyde is introduced into the work area. Training shall be provided at least annually for employees exposed to formaldehyde concentrations at or above the action level or STEL. Affected employees will be informed of the location of written training materials.

Written Program

A written Formaldehyde Management Plan shall be developed, implemented, and maintained, containing the following components: 

    labeling and signage
    safety data sheets (SDS)
    medical surveillance
    potential health hazards from exposure
    signs and symptoms of exposure
    adverse effects and reporting requirements
    descriptions of operations where formaldehyde is present
    safe work practices
    personal protective equipment
    spills, emergencies, cleanup procedures
    engineering and work practice controls
    review of emergency procedures and specific duties or assignments
    access to training materials


Records shall be maintained for all of the following: 
All measurements taken to monitor employee exposure to formaldehyde 
All training 
Medical surveillance 
Respirator fit testing 
All exposure records and determinations shall be kept for at least 30 years 
All medical records shall be kept for the duration of employment plus 30 years 
All respiratory fit test records shall be kept until replaced by a more recent record

University Resources

Department of Environmental Safety, Sustainability and Risk (301) 405-3960
ESSR Fax Number: 307-314-9294
ESSR online:

Written 2/00
Revised 4/01
Reviewed 4/05