Some people in Funeralworld get in a pickle about formaldehyde. It’s an f-word. Natural buriers won’t have it. Embalmers get cancer from it. MDF coffins are damnably full of it. It’s bad.
The World Health Organisation published its own findings as long ago as 1991. I’m grateful to the Funeral Consumers Alliance for putting us on to it. The findings are illuminating. Here are some extracts:
Under atmospheric conditions, formaldehyde is readily photooxidized by sunlight to carbon dioxide.
Formaldehyde kills viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, and has found wide use as a fumigant. It is a disinfectant with a broad efficiency
There is some natural formaldehyde in raw food
Formaldehyde is readily absorbed via the respiratory and gastrointestinal routes. Dermal absorption of formaldehyde appears to be very slight. Increases in blood concentrations of formaldehyde were not detected in rats or human beings exposed to formaldehyde through inhalation, because of rapid metabolism.
Formaldehyde is carcinogenic in rats and mice. It produced nasal squamous cell carcinomas in rats exposed to high concentrations (17.2 mg/m3) … [Among humans] the causal role of formaldehyde is considered likely only for nasal and nasopharyngeal cancer.
Areas in which formaldehyde is handled must be well ventilated. Normally, mechanical ventilation is necessary.
Formaldehyde is widely present in the environment, as a result of natural processes and from man-made sources.
Formaldehyde in soil and water is … biodegraded in a relatively short time.
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.
Full WHO report here.