WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
IPCS INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMME ON CHEMICAL SAFETY
HEALTH AND SAFETY GUIDE NO. 57
HAZARDS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND THEIR PREVENTION
Formaldehyde is widely present in the environment, as a result of natural processes and from man-made sources. Most of the formaldehyde enters the atmosphere, where it is rapidly degraded by photolysis and photo-oxidation by hydroxyl radicals. Formaldehyde in soil [i.e., cemeteries] and water is also biodegraded in a relatively short time. In water, one pathway of degradation is rapid hydration to methylene glycol.
Formaldehyde is toxic for several aquatic organisms, but its ready biodegradability, low bioaccumulation, and the ability of organisms to metabolize it indicate that the impact of formaldehyde on the aquatic environment is limited, except in the case of major pollution. Similar considerations apply to the atmosphere and the terrestrial environment where hazards will only occur when massive discharges or releases lead to major local pollution. The non-persistence of formaldehyde means that effects will not be permanent.
The main feature in the prevention of hazards for the environment is the control of the emissions, release, and disposal of formaldehyde.
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