Several European countries have already banned the use of formaldehyde
as an embalming fluid; some other countries are considering a ban. There
has been no suggestion that formaldehyde be banned as a fixative for
histological purposes. So, we as a group of concerned users, have no
need to go out searching for alternate fixatives.
Doing a Google search for "formaldehyde ban Europe embalming" produced
several hundred hits from a wide variety of sources (as most Google
searches do). Some were relevant, some were from ecological groups
wanting to ban formaldehyde along with almost everything else, and
others were from people whose brains had obviously already been pickled
in some other reagent. From the relevant ones, it seems that the
embalmers have a history of being less than careful with their
formaldehyde-containing fluids, consequently some of their group have
developed formaldehyde-associated disorders. These are all conditions
that we know about and use appropriate protocols to avoid. Again there
was no suggestion that formaldehyde be banned as a tissue fixative.
Logically, a total ban on formaldehyde would be impossible. Contrary to
common beliefs, the amount of formaldehyde used for tissue fixation is a
tiny fraction of the total amount produced each year. Formaldehyde, in
huge quantities, is used in the manufacturing of many household and
The majority of formaldehyde is used in the production of polymers and
other chemicals. When combined with phenol, urea, or melamine,
formaldehyde produces a hard resin such as those used in plywood or
carpeting. It is used as the wet-strength resin added to sanitary paper
products such as facial tissue, table napkins, and roll towels. They are
also foamed to make home insulation, or cast into molded products.
Production of formaldehyde resins accounts for more than half of
Formaldehyde is used to produce glues used in the manufacture of
particleboard, plywood, veneers, and other wood products as well as
spray-on insulating foams. The textile industry uses formaldehyde-based
resins to make fabrics crease-resistant.
Whether the enviromentalists like it or not, formaldehyde is unlikely to
disappear anytime in the foreseeable future. But, we do need to handle
it safely and be aware of its dangers.
(It was cool and rainy afternoon here in Kamloops, so no gardening, no
golf, just a Google search and a few e-mails).
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