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Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that presents a health hazard if workers are exposed. You can be exposed to formaldehyde if you breathe it into your lungs, if it gets into your eyes, or if it is contained in a product that gets onto your skin. You can also be exposed accidentally if you touch your face, eat food, or drink after using a product containing formaldehyde without first washing your hands. It can irritate the eyes and nose, and cause coughing and wheezing. Formaldehyde is a "sensitizer," which means that it can cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes, and lungs such as asthma-like breathing problems and skin rashes and itching. When formaldehyde is in a product that gets sprayed into the eyes, it can damage the eyes and cause blindness. It is also a carcinogen.
It is important to realize that though the product may be labeled as formaldehyde free, formaldehyde might be listed as methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0. All of these are names for formaldehyde under OSHA's formaldehyde standard. There are also chemicals, such as timonacic acid (also called thiazolidinecarboxylic acid) that can release formaldehyde under certain conditions, such as those present during the hair smoothing treatment process. Formaldehyde can be released from hair smoothing products that list any of these names on the label and workers can breathe it in or absorb it through their skin. Workers can be exposed to formaldehyde during the entire hair straightening process, especially when heat is applied (e.g. blow-drying, flat ironing).
- Give employees appropriate gloves and other personal protective equipment (e.g., face shield, chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant aprons) and train them on how to use this equipment while mixing and applying the products;
- Explain to workers how to read and understand the information on a product's label and MSDS;
- Make sure the workplace has eye and skin washing equipment if products that contain formaldehyde could be splashed onto the workers’ skin or into their eyes;
- Train workers how to safely clean up spills and properly throw products out; and
- Get workers the right medical attention (e.g., doctor exams) if they develop signs and symptoms of an exposure to formaldehyde or are exposed to large amounts of formaldehyde during an emergency (e.g., a large spill).