August 18, 2016 . Workplace, Manufacturing, Sustainability

Formaldehyde in Office Furniture: Something to Be Concerned About?

Formaldehyde in Office Furniture

What is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. It is produced and broken down by the normal metabolic processes of living organisms and is present even in the human breath. Naturally occurring and man-made formaldehyde-based compounds create durable, cost-effective bonds that make it an ideal industrial-strength adhesive for many consumer products, including office furniture.  

Concern about Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde has been subject to heightened public concern for its potential to “off-gas” from commercial products into indoor air. There have been publicized cases of harmful effects from exposure. In most cases these include irritation of the eyes, nose or throat and are brought on by exposure to an abundance of poor quality materials in confined environments. Formaldehyde is recognized as a "probable carcinogen” when exposure is unusually high and prolonged.

Formaldehyde and Commercial Office FurnitureWatson Converts to No Formaldehyde Added Core Materials

The US Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates acceptable levels of formaldehyde in the workplace. Additional regulations introduced by the state of California Air Resources Board (CARB) seek to further mitigate perceived formaldehyde exposure risk by setting more stringent limits on chemical emissions from composite wood products. CARB regulations take into account formaldehyde’s short half-life (1.6 to 19 hours) and apply additional standards to reduce the amount of formaldehyde that reaches end users when off-gassed from commercial products. Furniture manufacturers reduce potential exposure by sealing off exposed wood edges with edge banding and surface laminates to restrain off-gassing. All manufacturers delivering products into the state of California must comply with CARB emissions standards.

Risk of harm from formaldehyde exposure in commercial offices is extremely low. Even so, many companies are looking more closely at the value of No Added Formaldehyde (NAF) products and materials. Choosing NAF helps reduce potential cumulative formaldehyde off-gassing impact in major renovation projects or new office environments where a multitude of formaldehyde-containing materials are installed. Additionally, building projects receive LEED (Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design) credit for selecting low-emitting materials.

Watson designs with health in mind. Recently we became the first major U.S. office and communications center furniture manufacturer to convert 100% of our core wood material to NAF (read full story here). As an additional assurance, most standard Watson products are Indoor Advantage™ certified by the accredited third party SCS Global Services and comply with ANSI/BIFMA X7.1/ M7.1 standards for indoor air quality.


Occupational Health & Safety (OSHA). Formaldehyde.  
Sierra Pine Composite Solutions. Environmental – CARB Regulation.  

California Air Resources Board Air Toxic Control Measure (ATCM). California Air Resources Board Fact Sheet. toxics/compwood/factsheet.pdf  

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