Formaldehyde: What is its impact on health and how to control it with MICA Plus?

November 2023

Formaldehyde is a toxic and highly volatile substance with a direct impact on health. It is considered carcinogenic, neurotoxic and sensitizing. Despite its hazards, it is one of the most relevant industrial chemicals, and is present in thousands of industrial and consumer products.

Formaldehyde is widely used in various industries and sectors. For example, it is regularly found in laboratories and hospitals, where it is released from formaldehyde used to preserve biological samples. It is also common in other industries, such as construction, plastics manufacturing, foams and resins, tobacco smoke or open fireplaces, as well as a preservative in the textile sector or in the funeral industry.

In addition to these specific uses, formaldehyde is common in our indoor environments, present in building materials such as particleboard and other wood derivatives, as well as in hygiene and cosmetic products, among others. For this reason, any company is susceptible to finding formaldehyde in its facilities and workplaces.

Why and how to monitor formaldehyde? 

Exposure at concentrations above recommended levels can cause irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. If this exposure is prolonged over time, the effects can be even more adverse, and can worsen symptoms in people with asthma and even lead to different types of cancer. All this, together with the importance of creating safe and healthy work environments, motivates the need to find a solution that addresses the root of the problem: the amount of formaldehyde present in indoor spaces.

The harmful effects of formaldehyde can be controlled by effective ventilation to reduce its concentration to safe levels around 50 ug/m3. To guarantee these values, identify sources of contamination and, therefore, ensure a clean and safe space, monitoring the concentration of this substance is the key.  

However, over time, difficulties have been encountered in measuring formaldehyde concentrations easily and accurately, due to problems of sensor cross-sensitivity with other VOCs. inBiot integrates sensors that address this problem. These are electrochemical sensors developed with the focus on obtaining accurate measurements, fast response and, above all, with very low cross-sensitivity with other VOCs.

Formaldehyde electrochemical sensors. The key to low cross-sensitivity. 

Electrochemical sensors are based on the electrochemical principle. The sensor is composed of two electrodes separated by an electrolyte. When air comes into contact with the electrode, a chemical reaction takes place: the formaldehyde decomposes and generates an electric current between the electrodes, proportional to the concentration of the compound. The low sensitivity of this sensor to other VOCs results from the specific chemical reaction that is triggered.

In addition, the electrodes on which the reaction takes place can undergo modifications by means of nanoparticles, metal nanoparticles or metal oxides, among others. These modifiers can lead to an improvement in sensor performance, in terms of sensitivity, selectivity and detection ratio, since they are optimized for the specific application of the sensor, i.e. for the detection of the specific gas, in our case, formaldehyde. In this way, the sensors with modified electrodes used by inBiot obtain much less interference from other gases and the formaldehyde measurements are much more reliable.       

From MICA to MICA Plus 

The importance of formaldehyde monitoring due to its negative health effects motivated inBiot to develop MICA Plus. This device offers a solution to meet the challenge towards the ultimate goal of ensuring adequate IAQ (Indoor Air Quality). It integrates an electrochemical formaldehyde sensor, which is characterized by its low cross-sensitivity with other VOCs and offers very accurate concentration measurements with a fast response. In addition, due to the low interference of other VOCs in the measurements, the sensor's lifespan is higher than for sensors based on other technologies, as it depends on the amount of gas to which it is exposed.

For all these reasons, MICA Plus becomes an essential tool to protect people's health and improve their quality of life. Through rigorous control and monitoring of formaldehyde and other key indoor pollutants, it helps prevent risks linked to critical factors that impact indoor air quality.

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