Skip to main content

Toxic litigation - Formaldehyde

By Tim Hayward
Technical Claims Manager

What is formaldehyde? Classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a human carcinogen, formaldehyde is a highly toxic, colourless gas often found in water-based solutions. Commonly used as a preservative in medical laboratories and mortuaries, formaldehyde is also found in building materials, industrial disinfectants, and cosmetic products. In view of its widespread use and toxicity, exposure to formaldehyde is a significant consideration for human health...

The risks
A number of different occupations are at risk of formaldehyde exposure, most notably those working in mortuaries, laboratories, hospitals or on building sites where it is frequently used.

Anyone working with formaldehyde is at risk of inhaling the vapours if there is insufficient ventilation or inadequate protective equipment is used. People working with formaldehyde solution are also at risk of getting splashes of it on their skin.

Following exposure, the adverse health effects encountered depend on a number of factors, including the amount, method, and duration of exposure. Inhalation of formaldehyde gas in severe cases may cause respiratory distress and could cause the onset of asthma in sensitive individuals. Exposure of the eyes and skin to splashes of highly concentrated formaldehyde solutions may cause burns.

Concluding thoughts
Formaldehyde could prove a ticking time bomb. Its ubiquity and known carcinogenic qualities could see it become a significant legal problem in the future. Formaldehyde exposure has already led to class action in the USA in which $42.6m was awarded to Hurricane Rita and Katrina victims housed in government-issued FEMA trailers with excessive levels of toxic formaldehyde. It would be prudent for any business which uses formaldehyde in its processes or which manufactures or supplies goods which contain this chemical to consider fully the implications of this litigation for its own operations.

Tim Hayward, Solicitor, Claims Controller, UK Casualty Claims

Your contact

Your contact

Tim Hayward

Tim Hayward

Casualty & Property Claims Manager