Skip to main content

Survey of 24-h personal formaldehyde exposures in geographically distributed urban office workers in the USA


An air sampling study was conducted to evaluate personal formaldehyde exposures in a group of office workers spread across five geographical locations in the USA. Passive badge samples for formaldehyde were collected on three participants in each location, as well as in the office and home indoor microenvironments of each participant over 3 individual days. Median personal 24-h formaldehyde concentrations ranged from 9.9 to 18 μg/m3. Personal 24-h formaldehyde concentrations in one location were significantly higher than concentrations measured in the other four locations; no significant differences existed between any of the other locations. The participants in this study spent an average of 53% of their daily time in their homes, 36% at their office, and 11% in other indoor and outdoor locations. A comparison of measured 24-h personal formaldehyde concentrations and a model of average exposure based upon measured concentrations in the indoor microenvironments suggested that both the home and office formaldehyde concentrations were a strong predictor (R2 = 0.88) of overall personal exposure. The data from this study are representative of office workers in urban environments and can be used as background formaldehyde exposure levels (in the absence of specific sources) for both occupational and nonoccupational exposure assessments.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. ANSES (2016) Analysis of the most appropriate risk management option (RMOA). EC number: 200-001-8. CAS number: 50-00-0. French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, France

  2. ATSDR (1999) Toxicological profile for formaldehyde. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Atlanta

  3. ATSDR (2010) Addendum to the toxicological profile for formaldehyde. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Atlanta

  4. Bruinen de Bruin Y, Koistinen K, Kephalopoulos S, Geiss O, Tirendi S, Kotzias D (2008) Characterisation of urban inhalation exposures to benzene, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in the European Union: comparison of measured and modelled exposure data. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int 15:417–430.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. CARB (2008) Final regulation order: Airborne toxic control measure to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (CARB)

  6. Fishbein L (1992) Exposure from occupational versus other sources. Scand J Work Environ Health 18(Suppl 1):5–16

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Jia C, Batterman S, Godwin C (2008) VOCs in industrial, urban and suburban neighborhoods, part 1: indoor and outdoor concentrations, variation, and risk drivers. Atmospheric Environ 42:2083–2100

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Jurvelin J, Vartiainen M, Jantunen M, Pasanen P (2001) Personal exposure levels and microenvironmental concentrations of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Finland. J Air Waste Manag Assoc 51:17–24

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Kinney PL, Chillrud SN, Ramstrom S, Ross J, Spengler JD (2002) Exposures to multiple air toxics in New York City. Environ Health Perspect 110(Suppl 4):539–546.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Lee EG, Magrm R, Kusti M, Kashon ML, Guffey S, Costas MM, Boykin CJ, Harper M (2017) Comparison between active (pumped) and passive (diffusive) sampling methods for formaldehyde in pathology and histology laboratories. J Occup Environ Hyg 14:31–39

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Lees REM (1983) Formaldehyde in insulation: villain or innocent bystander? Can Fam Physician 29:1127–1131

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Liu W et al (2007) Predicting personal exposure to airborne carbonyls using residential measurements and time/activity data. Atmosphere Environ 41:5280–5288

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Miller L, Xu X, Grgicak-Mannion A, Brook J, Wheeler A (2012) Multi-season, multi-year concentrations and correlations amongst the BTEX group of VOCs in an urbanized industrial city. Atmospheric Environ 61:305–315

  14. Norman GR, Newhouse MT (1986) Health effects of urea formaldehyde foam insulation: evidence of causation. CMAJ 134:733–738

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Novick RM, Nelson ML, McKinley MA, Anderson GL, Keenan JJ (2013) The effect of clothing care activities on textile formaldehyde content. J Toxicol Environ Health A 76:883–893.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. OSHA (2005) Formaldehyde. Method 1007. Methods Development Team, Industrial Hygiene Chemistry Division, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Sandy

  17. Pandian MD, Ott WR, Behar JV (1993) Residential air exchange rates for use in indoor air and exposure modeling studies. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol 3:407–416

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Pierce JS, Abelmann A, Spicer LJ, Adams RE, Glynn ME, Neier K, Finley BL, Gaffney SH (2011) Characterization of formaldehyde exposure resulting from the use of four professional hair straightening products. J Occup Environ Hyg 8:686–699.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Pierce JS, Abelmann A, Lotter JT, Ruestow PS, Unice KM, Beckett EM, Fritz HA, Bare JL, Finley BL (2016) An assessment of formaldehyde emissions from laminate flooring manufactured in China. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 81:20–32

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Pohlert T (2018) Calculate pairwise multiple comparisons of mean rank sums extended. R Project. Accessed 15 Jan 2020

  21. Sahmel J, Unice K, Scott P, Cowan D, Paustenbach D (2009) The use of multizone models to estimate an airborne chemical contaminant generation and decay profile: occupational exposures of hairdressers to vinyl chloride in hairspray during the 1960s and 1970s. Risk Anal 29:1699–1725.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Salthammer T (2019) Data on formaldehyde sources, formaldehyde concentrations and air exchange rates in European housings. Data Brief 22:400–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Salthammer T, Mentese S, Marutzky R (2010) Formaldehyde in the indoor environment. Chem Rev 110:2536–2572.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Serrano-Trespalacios PI, Ryan L, Spengler JD (2004) Ambient, indoor and personal exposure relationships of volatile organic compounds in Mexico City metropolitan area. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol 14(Suppl 1):S118–S132.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. USDA (2016) Rural-urban continuum codes. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Accessed 3 June 2019

  26. US EPA (2016a) Formaldehyde emission standards for composite wood products. 40 CFR Part 770. Federal Register. Vol. 81, No. 238. 89674–89743. December 12, 2016. United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Washington, DC

  27. US EPA (2016b) Formaldehyde. 50–00-0. United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Washington, DC

Download references


The authors would like to thank all of the volunteers for participating in the study and Mr. Kenneth Unice of Cardno ChemRisk for assistance with the data interpretation and input on the manuscript.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anders Abelmann.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

All authors are employed by Cardno ChemRisk, a consulting firm that provides scientific advice to the government, corporations, law firms, and various scientific/professional organizations. Cardno ChemRisk has been engaged by companies involved in formaldehyde litigation. All funding for the design of the study, the laboratory analysis, and the time invested by the authors to write this paper was provided by Cardno ChemRisk. No external funding was received for the study, the research supporting the analysis, nor the time needed to prepare the article.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Abelmann, A., McEwen, A.R., Lotter, J.T. et al. Survey of 24-h personal formaldehyde exposures in geographically distributed urban office workers in the USA. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 17250–17257 (2020).

Download citation


  • Ambient air
  • Background concentration
  • Formaldehyde
  • Indoor air
  • Inhalation exposure
  • Passive monitoring
  • Personal exposure