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Formaldehyde, a name that may sound familiar but it's hard to say why. It is found used in various sectors, in the food as well as in agriculture, it can be considered harmful, carcinogenic, but it is also sometimes used effectively. Let's see what its nature is and when to avoid coming into contact with it.
Formaldehyde: what it is
Formaldehyde, while seeming complex, is the simplest form of aldehydes and can be called also formaldehyde or methanal. It has CH2O as a chemical formula, in a 37% aqueous solution it is also commercially known as formalin or formol and perhaps, at least formalin, is already a more common term. The formaldehyde molecule is planar and if we look closely we see how the atoms are arranged that the chemical formula "mentions".
There is an atom of carbon in the center of a triangle which would seem almost equilateral with vertices "occupied" by two hydrogen atoms, that "H2" of the formula, and by one of oxygen.
Formaldehyde and paraformaldehyde
If formaldehyde sounds weird, let alone it paraformaldehyde . Let's see how it is born and what it is. It is about one of the two possible forms in which we find formaldehyde which, gaseous at room temperature, can be formalin or paraformaldehyde, in fact, in the form of 1,3,5-trioxane, a cyclic molecule formed by the union of three formaldehyde molecules. They are complex chemical and physical mechanisms that, if not for work or passion, are not investigated specifically but it is useful to know that paraformaldehyde can be converted back to formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde: where it is found
The aqueous solutions in which it is found, formalin for example, they are colorless but have a characteristic odor and have a powerful bactericidal power. That is why we find these substances often contained in disinfectants for domestic use, just take a look at the supermarket, on the shelves, consulting the labels, which we should do often, to see that enters our homes without our knowledge.
It is used, in aqueous solution, also in the sector of industrial fabric production, always because of his bactericidal properties.
Another use we find of this type of formic aldehyde solutions is the "laboratory" one, where they are used for keep samples of biological material, it goes without saying that in some embalming techniques it is a very used substance.
In addition to being dangerous if swallowed, formaldehyde is carcinogenic at least on rodents, beings in whose organism it is able to interfere with the bonds between DNA and proteins. IARC, the International Association for Cancer Research, as early as 2004 it has included formaldehyde in the list of substances considered with certainty carcinogens for the human species, this should warn us but do not panic before accurately quantify the type of danger and harmfulness.
The concentrations usually found in buildings are far below the carcinogenic alarm threshold, on the other hand, great care must be taken when formaldehyde is used in daily life by industrial processing workers.
Lately this substance has been classified in a different way than it is carcinogenic. It moved from the category "suspected of causing cancer" to that of "Can cause cancer".
Formaldehyde in vaccines
Always in aqueous solution, therefore as formalin, it is used in the production of vaccines and anatoxins which are toxins that lose toxicity but maintain immunogenicity, starting with bacterial toxins. Always formalin can be used to make vaccines based on killed microorganisms.
It is not the main use of formaldehyde, that of vaccines, however, because we find it above all the protagonist or at least co-protagonist of production of polymers and other chemical compounds. As a reagent, it is also present in the manufacturing process of other organic compounds including polyols, such as pentaerythritol.
Returning to the supermarket shelves where we first found hygiene products with formaldehyde, they change sector but always looking at the labels, we also find it among the food additives with the initials E 240: it is used as a preservative.
Formaldehyde in glazes
Together with urea, it is used as glue paint of chipboard panels or as an element to make sound-absorbing panels, those that we find in some false ceilings or as partitions in open space offices. The thing that can be disturbing is the fact that over the years this substance it tends to evaporate into the surrounding environment and we all know that inhaling it for a long time and continuously is not good for your health.
In the textile sector when naphthols are applied, formaldehyde serves to give greater stability to naphtholic solutions, in the later stages, when using dyes obtained with direct dyes, formaldehyde can be very useful for improve its resistance to water and washing in general.
In addition to being a substance that can cause cancer, as well explained before, formaldehyde can be responsible for some processes of damage to our body. It is in fact considered one of the most common indoor pollutants and, if present at concentrations in the air above 0.1 ppm, it can irritate the mucous membranes and eyes by inhalation, as well as damage hair and skin in general.
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