Mortality among industrial workers exposed to formaldehyde

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1986 Jun;76(6):1071-84.


A historical cohort study evaluated the mortality experience of 26,561 workers employed in 10 formaldehyde-producing or -using facilities. Approximately 600,000 person-years of follow-up accrued as workers were followed to January 1, 1980. Estimates of historical exposure to formaldehyde by job were developed by project industrial hygienists using monitoring data available from participating plants, comments from long-term workers, and comprehensive monitoring data specifically collected for this study. Mortality from all causes combined was about as expected [standardized mortality ratio (SMR) = 96] based on mortality rates of the general U.S. population. Significantly fewer deaths occurred from infective and parasitic diseases (SMR = 51) and from accidents (SMR = 72) than expected. Cancer overall was not related to formaldehyde exposure. Workers exposed to formaldehyde had slight excesses for Hodgkin's disease and cancers of the lung and prostate gland, but these excesses were not consistently related to duration of or average, cumulative, or peak formaldehyde exposure levels. Recent animal studies found nasal cancer among rats exposed to formaldehyde, but no excess of this tumor occurred in this study. Mortality from brain cancer and leukemia among these industrial workers was not excessive in contrast to reported excesses among professional groups (e.g., anatomists, embalmers, and pathologists) with exposure to formaldehyde. Although there was a deficit for cancer of the buccal cavity and pharynx, mortality from certain subsites, i.e., the nasopharynx and oropharynx, was elevated. These subsites did not, however, show a consistently rising risk with level of exposure. These data provide little evidence that mortality from cancer is associated with formaldehyde exposure at levels experienced by workers in this study.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Formaldehyde
  • Hodgkin Disease / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Industry*
  • Leukemia / chemically induced
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Nose Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Regression Analysis
  • Time Factors


  • Formaldehyde