Short-term effects of formaldehyde on peak expiratory flow and irritant symptoms

Arch Environ Health. 2001 Jan-Feb;56(1):11-8. doi: 10.1080/00039890109604049.


The authors studied the respiratory effects of formaldehyde exposure among students who dissected cadavers in a gross anatomy laboratory. Peak expiratory flow and respiratory symptoms were measured before and after each weekly laboratory session. Each of 38 students was exposed to formaldehyde for 2.5 hr/wk for 14 wk. Individual, daily formaldehyde measurements averaged 1.1 ppm (standard deviation = 0.56 ppm). Multivariate models demonstrated two different time scales of effect of formaldehyde on peak expiratory flow: (1) exposure during the previous 2.5 hr reduced peak expiratory flow by -1.0% per ppm, and (2) average exposure during all preceding weeks reduced peak expiratory flow by an additional -0.5% per ppm of formaldehyde. However, the short-term exposure effect was diminished during the first 4 wk, suggesting at least partial acclimatization. Symptom reporting was also associated with exposure during the previous 2.5 hr, and similar evidence of acclimatization was observed. These results suggest that there are two different time scales of response to formaldehyde, and they emphasize the need for longitudinal studies, characterized by quantitative exposure characterization, and frequent measurements of outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization
  • Adult
  • Anatomy / education
  • Cadaver
  • Cough / chemically induced*
  • Cough / diagnosis
  • Dyspnea / chemically induced*
  • Dyspnea / diagnosis
  • Embalming
  • Environmental Monitoring* / methods
  • Female
  • Fixatives / adverse effects*
  • Fixatives / analysis*
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / drug effects
  • Formaldehyde / adverse effects*
  • Formaldehyde / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate / drug effects*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / education
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sneezing / drug effects*
  • Students, Health Occupations
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • Vital Capacity / drug effects


  • Fixatives
  • Formaldehyde