A cohort study of workers exposed to formaldehyde in the British chemical industry: an update

Br J Ind Med. 1993 Sep;50(9):827-34. doi: 10.1136/oem.50.9.827.


A cohort study of workers exposed to formaldehyde in the British chemical industry in any one of six factories has been extended after the earlier published report in 1984. A further eight years of follow up to the end of 1989 have been included for the originally reported 7660 workers first employed before 1965, and a first follow up to the same date has been carried out for 6357 workers first employed since 1964. Extensive checking of the database has taken place including records at the factories, the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, and the National Health Service Central Register. The updated findings include one death from nasal cancer compared with 1.7 expected in this number of men during the follow up period--which gives no support to the original hypothesis based on animal experimental data that formaldehyde may be a nasal carcinogen in humans. There have been no cases of nasopharyngeal cancer in the cohort compared with an estimated 1.3 expected--which gives no support to the findings in a similarly designed study in the United States of an excess of cancers of the nasopharynx associated with exposure to formaldehyde. There has been a slight excess of about 12% for lung cancer with 402 deaths compared with about 359 expected. This is similar to that found in the United States study, but higher than we reported earlier before the checking procedures and extended follow up. Further analysis gives no definitive indication of this excess of lung cancer being clearly related to formaldehyde exposure, and the increase is within that generally thought consistent with possible confounding effects of cigarette smoking (although no data are available on this point).

MeSH terms

  • Chemical Industry*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Formaldehyde / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Nose Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Nose Neoplasms / mortality
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Formaldehyde