Observational study on occupational exposure of dairy farmers to formaldehyde

Occup Environ Med. 2023 Nov 9:oemed-2022-108753. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2022-108753. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: To provide insights into exposure of Dutch dairy farmers to formaldehyde derived from formalin footbaths used for cows. Dutch safety norms are set at a limit of 0.122 ppm during an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and 0.407 ppm for a 15-min TWA.

Methods: At 20 farms formaldehyde air concentrations were determined using stationary active air sampling with impingers next to the footbath and in the milking parlour during footbath usage. Formalin footbath concentrations were tested and meteorological conditions were collected using a climate monitor to assess associations with formaldehyde concentrations. A structured interview inquired on potential exposure routes and exposure duration.

Results: Formaldehyde concentrations next to the footbath ranged from <0.003 to 0.316 ppm, with seven measurements exceeding the 8-hour TWA threshold. None of the measurements exceeded the 15-min TWA threshold at either location. Formaldehyde air concentrations in the milking parlour were generally lower, yet at two farms exceeded the 8-hour TWA limit during sampling. Self-reported exposure time of the dairy farmers to the formalin footbath never exceeded 15 min. Although due to the small sample size, no significant associations between most predictor variables and formaldehyde levels in the air were found, the direction of effects were as expected.

Conclusions: The exposure of Dutch dairy farmers presumably falls within the established safety norms. Nonetheless, substantial levels of formaldehyde could be detected. This study further emphasises the importance of substitution of formalin in dairy practice and the relevance of informing dairy farmers on proper handling of formalin to reduce exposure.

Keywords: air pollution; chemical hazard release; formaldehyde; occupational health.