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Formaldehyde: a new occupational disease recognised

Cancer linked to exposure to formaldehyde (alias formol in its aqueous form) has been recognised as an occupational disease.

Formaldehyde (alias formic aldehyde) is a highly volatile and highly irritant colourless gas. It is sold chiefly in the form of an aqueous solution called formol. Formaldehyde is used in various industries (as a synthesis intermediary, disinfectant, etc.).

Formaldehyde is a source of non-cancerous ailments classified by the French national health insurance system as table-43-type occupational diseases: eczema-type lesions, rhinitis, asthma, irritable dermatitis. In 2005, formaldehyde was recognised as one of the 10 chemical agents most widely used in France that cause cancer or birth defects or are toxic for reproduction.

Since 2007, occupations exposing workers to formaldehyde have been classified as cancer-causing activities and are subject to specific risk-prevention regulations, and in 2009, nasopharyngeal carcinoma linked to exposure to formaldehyde was added to the list of occupational diseases (table 43b).

There is also sufficient evidence to demonstrate an established link between exposure to formaldehyde and the onset of leukaemia. When will that too be classified as an occupational disease?

©Prescrire June 2010

Source: "Une nouvelle maladie professionnelle liée au formaldéhyde" Rev Prescrire 2010; 30 (319) : 386-387.