Personal formaldehyde exposure during the transportation of embalmed cadavers

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2021 Jul;18(7):289-294. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2021.1919684. Epub 2021 May 19.


Occupational exposure to the known carcinogen formaldehyde during embalming (the preservation of cadavers) has been well documented. Cadavers may be transported to universities on loan for training medical professionals in human anatomy courses. However, occupational formaldehyde exposure levels associated with the transportation of cadavers have not previously been published. Therefore, the current pilot study examined formaldehyde exposure during this process. Preserved intact cadavers (room temperature or cooled) were loaded into cargo vans at the source (lending) lab, driven to the destination (borrowing) lab, and unloaded. Dissected cadavers (room temperature) were picked up and loaded into the cargo vans at the destination lab and driven to and unloaded at the source lab. Formaldehyde samples were collected in the breathing zone of employees engaged in cadaver transportation and handling. The number of intact cadavers or dissected cadavers in each cargo van ranged from 4 to 13 bodies. Sample collection times associated with cadaver transportation and handling tasks ranged from 15 to 216 min per sample with formaldehyde concentrations up to 1.6 ppm. Median exposure levels during cadaver transportation tasks were (1) 1.4 ppm (intact room temperature cadavers); (2) 0.13 ppm (dissected room temperature cadavers); and (3) 0.018 ppm (intact cooled cadavers). The median exposure during cadaver handling (loading/unloading) was 0.05 ppm. The 8-hr time-weighted averages during cadaver transportation and handling ranged from 0.030 ppm (intact cooled cadavers and dissected room temperature cadavers) to 0.51 ppm (intact room temperature cadavers, and dissected room temperature cadavers), the latter of which exceeded the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists recommended time-weighted average threshold limit value of 0.1 ppm. It is recommended that cadavers be transported cooled, however not all facilities may have access to or utilize specialized cadaver storage such as a walk-in cooler. Therefore, alternate exposure prevention approaches should also be identified and implemented.

Keywords: Chemical sampling; embalming; occupational health.

MeSH terms

  • Cadaver
  • Embalming*
  • Formaldehyde* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity


  • Formaldehyde

Supplementary concepts

  • Formaldehyde poisoning