Formaldehyde (IUPAC name, methanal) is one of the simplest, most ubiquitous molecules in our environment and troposphere. Exposure to large amounts of formaldehyde can produce a variety of respiratory and dermatologic problems in humans, in both the home and the workplace. However, in spite of anecdotal reports on formaldehyde-induced illness over the past 20 years there is a paucity of data regarding its potential as either an allergen or an antigen in humans. In addition, many of our current impressions about formaldehyde are based on studies of dubious scientific validity. In this review, we discuss the biological and chemical properties of formaldehyde and its presence in materials which we come in contact with, and finally attempt to put in perspective our current understanding of the detrimental effects of formaldehyde on our health, or lack thereof. There is no evidence at present that formaldehyde causes immunological diseases. Finally, and unfortunately, many of the studies have drawn invalid conclusions and are based on poorly controlled anecdotal observations.
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