A mathematical model for the absorption and metabolism of formaldehyde vapour by humans

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2005 Aug 15;206(3):309-20. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2004.11.012. Epub 2005 Jan 11.


Epidemiological studies of occupational exposure to formaldehyde gas (HCHO) have suggested possible links between concentration and duration of exposure, and elevated risks of leukaemia and other cancers at sites distant from the site of contact. Formaldehyde is a highly water soluble gas which, when inhaled, reacts rapidly at the site of contact and is quickly metabolised by enzymes in the respiratory tissue. Inhaled formaldehyde is almost entirely absorbed in the respiratory tract and, for formaldehyde induced toxicity to occur at distant sites, HCHO must enter the blood and be transported to systemic tissues via the circulatory system. A mathematical model describing the absorption and removal of inhaled formaldehyde in the nasal tissue is therefore formulated to predict the proportion of formaldehyde entering into the blood. Accounting for the spatial distribution of the formaldehyde concentration and the metabolic activity within the mucosa, the concentration of formaldehyde in the mucus, the epithelium and the blood has been determined and was found to attain a steady-state profile within a few seconds of exposure. The increase of the formaldehyde concentration in the blood was predicted to be insignificant compared with the existing pre-exposure levels in the body, indicating that formaldehyde is rapidly removed in the nasal tissue. The results of the model thus suggest that it is highly unlikely that following inhalation by the nose, formaldehyde itself will cause toxicity at sites other than the initial site of contact in the respiratory tract.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Animals
  • Diffusion
  • Environmental Pollutants / pharmacokinetics*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Formaldehyde / pharmacokinetics*
  • Formaldehyde / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nasal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Occupational Exposure


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Formaldehyde