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USDOH Lists Formaldehyde and Styrene as Carcinogens

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The U.S. Department of Health (DOH) maintains a list of chemicals called the Report on Carcinogens that can increase risk of cancer and both formaldehyde and styrene are listed. One reason why this is important to the average person is that styrene and formaldehyde are the primary components in Styrofoam and other household products. This report, which the federal government mandates, is crucial because it informs people about dangerous cancer-causing agents.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) represents the DOH and has stated reducing exposure to cancer-causing agents is something that should be important to all of us. When the DOH identifies an agent as having the potential to cause cancer, then we should do whatever is possible to avoid it. However, in the case of something as common as Styrofoam, that avoidance can be difficult to accomplish.

In the Report on Carcinogens, the DOH identifies agents, exposures, mixtures and substances in two distinct categories: known human carcinogen and reasonably anticipated human carcinogen. While the latter deserves our attention, the former demands it. In this instance, the DOH lists both substances as a reasonably anticipated human carcinogen. The research that graduated these substances onto the list demonstrated that they could cause nasal cancer in rats after extended exposure, which is a good indicator that it can have the same effect in humans. So let’s take a closer look at these two agents, and explore where beyond Styrofoam we may encounter them in our daily lives.

What Is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a common indoor air contaminant and a volatile organic compound (VOC). It’s flammable, pungent, colorless and present in many household products: plastics, synthetic fibers, wood products, paper products and so forth. Formaldehyde is also a chemical that occurs in nature. However, for industrial and commercial purposes, we tend to create it synthetically in large quantities. Since formaldehyde is common in finishes and adhesives, most homes likely have formaldehyde seeping into their air, such as from carpets, draperies, particleboard, fiberglass, paints and so forth. Formaldehyde is also present in automobile exhaust and in many nail polishes as a hardener. Prior to the DOH listing it on the Report on Carcinogens, we recognized many negative health effects associated with formaldehyde. Even light exposure can cause watering in the eyes, burning in the eyes, nose and throat, rashes, headaches, nausea, fatigue and other flu-like symptoms. Inhalation of formaldehyde can result in asthma-like symptoms, and long-term exposure can cause bronchitis, shortness of breath and other permanent respiratory conditions.

What Is Styrene?

Styrene does not occur naturally. It is a synthetic sweet-smelling VOC used worldwide to create plastic, rubber, fiberglass, insulation and many other products deriving from those listed. Like formaldehyde, styrene can seep into our home air from various building materials, but the most common form of exposure is smoking or secondhand smoke. In addition, like formaldehyde, we have long associated styrene with numerous negative health effects prior to putting it on the Report on Carcinogens. These negative effects include confusion, an intoxication-like sensation, difficulty concentrating, malaise, fatigue, drowsiness, dizziness and so forth.

What’s Next?

Now that we have this information, what do we do with that knowledge? It should be clear that it is near impossible to remove all sources of styrene and formaldehyde completely from our lives. However, we can ensure that our indoor air is formaldehyde and styrene free. The major concern with these agents is long-term exposure. We must remove them from our indoor air, where we account for the majority of the air we breathe, essentially reducing the risk of long-term exposure. That, of course, assumes that you do not smoke, you don’t work in a dangerous environment and you remove all obvious sources from your home.

Activated Carbon

Once we take those obvious steps, the best way to remove those substances from our indoor air is with an adequately-sized air purifier. Specifically, we need air filtration that uses activated carbon, at least in part. The activated carbon serves like a sponge that “soaks up” various airborne gasses and odors, including formaldehyde and styrene. What makes activated carbon so effective is that each granule has an extremely large surface area, and therefore you can trap a great deal of gas and odor using only a relatively small amount of activated carbon.


At Clean Air Plus, we sell air purifiers that are particularly well suited to removing styrene and formaldehyde from your home’s air. Buying a portable HEPA filtration unit will be one of the best choices you ever make for your family. Not only do you defend against formaldehyde, styrene and other agents listed in the Report on Carcinogens, you ensure pure air that is 99.97% free of all dangerous airborne particulates. In addition, if someone in your family suffers from allergies or asthma, you can significantly reduce their symptoms. Take those steps toward ensuring your family a healthier life.

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Clean Air Plus is a veteran and family owned small business. We represent the leading manufacturers in HEPA filtration including Austin Air Standard Units, Austin Air Junior Units, IQAir, Amaircare, Oransi and Airpura. Shop online or call one of our friendly experts at 888.247.1147. We'll be happy to help you choose from our large selection of quality air purifiers.

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