Apr
29
2016

The Hazards Of Formaldehyde

Toxic levels of formaldehyde in laminate wood flooring were underestimated, concealing the hazards of formaldehyde. Specifically, laminate wood flooring produced in China and sold by Lumber Liquidators, based in Toano, Virginia were identified as a problem.

News about the hazards of formaldehyde in Chinese laminate flooring

Last year CBS ran a story with Anderson Cooper regarding Chinese imported laminate flooring that emitted more than the stated amount of toxic formaldehyde. This was based on independent testing by CBS. Examiners found that laminate packages released between 6 and 7 times the amount of allowable formaldehyde. Moreover, some packages of the cheap Chinese made laminate flooring even released 20 times the allowable amount.

Certainly, formaldehyde is part of the glue in use to bind the wood particles together to make the laminate flooring. The laminate top seals the wooden core and keeps most of the formaldehyde inside.

Formaldehyde leaks into the home slowly

But over time it gradually leaks into the home. It is a matter of how much formaldehyde was in the glue and how good the ventilation of the home is, which determines the concentration of formaldehyde in the air.

CBS bought 31 boxes of the Chinese-made laminate flooring that Lumber Liquidators was selling in Virginia, Florida, Texas, Illinois and New York. The examiners sent samples to two reference labs. Most noteworthy, only one package was compliant with formaldehyde emissions standards. Some were more than 13 times over the California limit. Both labs were surprised how high the readings were, as they had not encountered this when they tested regular laminate flooring before.

Effects of the hazards of formaldehyde

Dr. Philip Landrigan at N.Y.’s Mt. Sinai Hospital specializes in environmental pediatrics and exposure to toxic chemicals. He stated that what matters is the concentration of formaldehyde in the typical home where such a floor is installed. Nevertheless, it needs to be stated that these toxic levels were only found in the cheap flooring of the above named company and this product has since been removed from the market. Above all, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (cancer producing substance). As a matter of fact, it irritates the airways, particularly in individuals who are sensitive like asthmatics.

Toxic effects on immune system of formaldehyde exposed workers

A 2014 occupational medicine study from China compared factory workers exposed to formaldehyde with controls. Notably, they found higher formic acid levels in the urine of exposed workers. Formic acid is the end metabolic product of formaldehyde. In addition, they also had higher B cell lymphocyte counts (in the high dose exposure group) and higher natural killer lymphocyte counts (in the low dose exposure group). As a result, this would explain the toxic effects on the immune system and the higher incidence of cancer in formaldehyde exposed individuals.

DNA changes in mouth cavity cells and nasal cells of anatomy workers

A 2015 study from Portugal examined DNA abnormalities in cells from anatomy workers. Furthermore, anatomy workers who prepare corpses with formaldehyde for anatomy courses are under the exposure of formaldehyde fumes. Another exposure can happen when fixating histology slides with formaldehyde to get them ready for microscopic examination. The researchers measured the the formaldehyde concentration in the air of the anatomy lab as 0.38 parts per million. Likewise, genetic analysis of cells from the mouth cavity and nasal cells showed significant DNA abnormalities, while controls without formaldehyde exposure did not have such DNA changes.

Formaldehyde poisons p53 cancer suppressor gene

In this study there was insufficient data to link formaldehyde exposure to causation of leukemia.  It is peculiar that on a molecular level it is clear what formaldehyde does to the p53 suppressor gene. But it is more difficult to show the link of formaldehyde exposure to the causation of a multitude of cancers.

WHO recommendation about formaldehyde

The WHO recommends keeping formaldehyde below 0.08 ppm in the air of factories where formaldehyde is used. WHO says that this will prevent nasal cancer and leukemia. Levels of 1 ppm can cause nasal cancer and leukemia in humans. The level for hardwood plywood is 0.05 ppm in the US since 2012

The CDC involvement in safe formaldehyde levels in the air of a home

The CDC faced with the problem of the Chinese laminate imports of Lumber Liquidators and did its own investigation. The conclusion was that these high concentrations of formaldehyde were not only affecting sensitive people, but in fact everybody. The CDC stated: “The lifetime cancer risk increased from the previous estimate of 2 to 9 extra cases for every 100,000 people to between 6 and 30 extra cases per 100,000 people. To put these numbers into perspective, the American Cancer Society estimates that up to 50,000 of every 100,000 people may develop cancer from all causes over their lifetimes.”

New guidelines for the limit of formaldehyde in residences

New guidelines for the limit of formaldehyde in residences were defined as 135 µg/m³ by the National Center for Environmental Health. This is a different nomenclature for formaldehyde concentration in the air and I will show the conversion to parts per million particles in a moment. This reference explains that 1 ppm = 1.23 mg/m³. 135 µg/m³ is the same as 0.135 mg/m³. When you divide 0.135 mg/m³ by 1.23 mg/m³, you have converted this into 0.11 ppm, the upper acceptable formaldehyde limit. Had the company followed proper procedure, it is clear from the recommendation above that the formaldehyde level of 0.05 ppm was in the safe zone. It was much smaller than 0.11 ppm. The cheap batch of plywood discussed above with the high formaldehyde glue gave measurements much higher than any of these guidelines.

Company response to bad publicity regarding “the hazards of formaldehyde”

As the stock of Lumber Liquidators plunged, the company decided to do something about this. In May of 2015 they stopped the sale of the cheap laminate products. It turned out that they had been poor quality, cheaper laminate boards; the producer had used glue with too much formaldehyde in it. The company had knowingly bought these for a 10% discount and hoped to make a huge profit through its over 360 stores in 46 states. Before this fiasco revenue was more than a billion dollars a year. Now the company tries to rescue its brand name through an ongoing painstaking public relations effort.

What to do, if you own cheap laminate flooring with the hazards of formaldehyde?

The CDC says you should ventilate the home, use additional vents to remove bad air, keep the temperature at the lowest comfortable setting and make your home a smoke-free home.

Many homeowners have ripped out the cheap laminate flooring and replaced it with better quality products and joined a class action suit against the company that sold them the product. Others leave it in place, open the windows and doors more frequently to keep the air concentration of formaldehyde lower; and they follow the other suggestions from the CDC.

According to this update formaldehyde levels are decreased significantly 6 to 10 months after initial installation.

The Hazards Of Formaldehyde

The Hazards Of Formaldehyde

Conclusion

Had Lumber Liquidators not been greedy for profit, we may never have known the story of formaldehyde overdosing of glue in one bad batch of laminate flooring. The unsuspecting consumer got a special deal, but nobody informed the consumer about the hazards of formaldehyde release! Keep in mind that not everything that is cheap is good quality.

Only a few years back urea formaldehyde was very popular as a means to insulate your home. Homeowners soon found out that this could lead to toxic formaldehyde fumes and they had to replace urea formaldehyde with glass fiber insulation.

Never sit back and think you are safe

You may not have to panic. Frequent ventilation, as described, can lower the formaldehyde concentration in the air. And eventually in the case of laminate flooring the concentration is low enough from the passage of time that there is no longer a danger from leaking formaldehyde gases.

What I have learnt from this is the following: never sit back and think you are safe. Watch what you are eating. Watch what you are drinking. Women, watch what cosmetics you put on your skin. Be aware of the potential hazards of fire retardant in textiles and noxious substances in building products. All of this can impact the quality of the air you are breathing!

Apr
23
2016

Healing Powers Of Green Tea

Powerful catechins that are a special form of bioflavonoids provide the healing powers of green tea. Researchers have proven that these catechins are only in green tea, not so much in black tea. The most effective of several catechins contained in green tea is EGCG, which stands for EpiGalloCatechin-3-Gallate. It crosses the blood/brain barrier and is very important for the protection of the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. But green tea or green tea extract has a diversified pharmacological action. Researchers said that green tea protects you from cardiovascular disease, from obesity, from diabetes, from autoimmune disorders, from cancer, from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In the following I like to comment on how green tea or its extract can protect from all of these diseases.

Alzheimer’s disease

Although there are 5 or 6 approved anti-Alzheimer’s drugs, none of them work for very long. They may at best postpone the deteriorating memory for 6 months, but then the effect of the drug wears off. The reason is that the drugs do not stop the production of the deadly beta-amyloid. It is the beta-amyloid that damages nerve cells that you want to preserve so you can think and memorize. In contrast a simple phytochemical, the catechin EGCG has been shown in animal experiments and in human trials to stop beta-amyloid production and increase solubility of beta-amyloid fragments in the brain. The end result is better memory and no further deterioration.

Two studies showing less strokes and better working memory processing with green tea

In a study of 13,988 elderly Japanese observed over 3 years the group that consumed 3 to 4 cups of green tea daily had 33% less strokes, cognitive impairment and osteoporosis.

Researchers at the University of Basel, Switzerland enrolled 12 healthy volunteers aged 21 to 28 and fed them extracts of green tea or placebo fluid via feeding tubes. They did this to rule out taste as a factor. The patients underwent functional MRI scans and they also received memory-stimulating tasks. Only the green tea extract was boosting activity in the frontal brain of the subjects. This was located in a specific area, called dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This area has a connection with language comprehension, reasoning and learning. It also switches short-term memory into long-term memory, called working memory processing.

Healing powers of green tea through new nerve cell development

Researchers showed with animal experiments that green tea extract protects nerve cells from the toxic effect of beta-amyloid. At the same time green tea extract triggers the production of new brain nerve cells (neurons). This is really good news for Alzheimer’s disease patients and their families: green tea extract delays further memory deterioration and stimulates the development of new nerve cells in the brain!

Cardiovascular disease

In a 2006 Japanese study 40,530 Japanese adults aged 40 to 79 years without history of stroke, coronary heart disease, or cancer at baseline were observed for 7 years. Diaries were kept about how many cups of green tea each person was drinking per day. The prevention of heart attacks and strokes was the the biggest effect of green tea extracts.

Men had a mortality reduction of 12% for heart attacks when they drank 5 cups or more of green tea; in women the corresponding mortality reduction for heart attack was 31%, a bigger effect. Overall mortality from strokes was lower than from heart attacks. This made the effect of green tea consumption even more beneficial with respect to stroke prevention. This study did not show any cancer prevention effect for green tea.

Obesity

It appears that green tea increases heat production and burns fat in the process. There was a small effect in terms of weight loss and a beneficial effect increasing the protective HDL cholesterol in this 2012 Polish study on obese patients. The authors compared either 379 mg of green tea extract, or a placebo, daily for 3 months. They concluded: “The results of this study confirm the beneficial effects of green tea extract supplementation on body mass index, lipid profile, and total antioxidant status in patients with obesity.”

Diabetes

Although there are claims in some studies that green tea would prevent diabetes, this question was thoroughly investigated in this Chinese 2014 study.

Researchers did not see any effects on fasting blood sugars or on hemoglobin A1C values. Hemoglobin A1C is a very sensitive indicator for the presence or absence of diabetes. All these lab tests showed no change following consumption of green tea or green tea extract. Forget using green tea for diabetes prevention; cut out sugar and starchy foods instead.

Autoimmune disorders

Sjogren’s syndrome and lupus are both autoimmune diseases. Green tea extract has shown in humans that symptom severity can improve; green tea polyphenols (GTPs) possess anti-inflammatory properties that benefit patients with autoimmune diseases.

In an animal model arthritis researchers determined that T helper cells are weakened and bone resorption is inhibited by EGCG from green tea extract.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA have noted that green tea extract is useful in calming down the immune response in autoimmune diseases. They concluded: “Altogether, these studies identify and support the use of EGCG as a potential therapeutic agent in preventing and ameliorating T cell-mediated autoimmune diseases.”

Cancer

Many researchers found that EGCG from green tea extract has immune modulatory effects. Furthermore, they saw a positive effect when patients received EGCG in combination with chemotherapy. A combination of cisplatin therapy with green tea extract has been found to have more effects on colorectal cancer and ovarian cancer than each one on its own. Similarly chemotherapy of breast cancer had better results in humans when EGCG from green tea extract was added as an immune modulation. More research, particularly in humans is needed to fully understand the mechanism of action of EGCG.

Toxicity of green tea extract

Animal experiments showed that higher doses of green tea extract could cause toxicity in the liver and in the nose of rats and mice. I was not able to find objective evidence for green tea toxicity in the PubMed system with respect to humans.

Healing Powers Of Green Tea

Healing Powers Of Green Tea

Conclusion

Perhaps the most important discovery regarding green tea extract is as follows. It crosses easily through the blood/brain barrier into the brain. This can postpone Alzheimer’s disease and can even lead to new neuron formation. The beneficial cardiovascular effects are also useful and combine well with exercise and good nutrition for prevention. Particularly stroke prevention is a useful property of EGCG from green tea extract. The effect on obesity is marginal whereas there was no effect of green tea on prevention of diabetes. The immune modulatory effect of green tea extract is useful in the treatment of autoimmune diseases and of cancer. Existing treatments for these conditions are becoming more effective by adding green tea extract.