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Use Nationally and in Massachusetts

Use Nationally and in Massachusetts

Formaldehyde is a basic building block chemical and it finds its way, either directly or in derivative chemicals, into almost all sectors of the economy and thousands of products.  Formaldehyde is available in multiple forms. These include formaldehyde gas, formalin solution (formaldehyde dissolved with methanol in water), trioxane, and paraformaldehyde (a polymerized form of formaldehyde). While available and used in a variety of concentrations, formaldehyde is most commonly used in 37% formalin solutions. 

U.S. manufacturers’ annual consumption is about 10 billion pounds of formaldehyde.  Because of formaldehyde’s chemical properties which inhibit long range export, U.S. formaldehyde production closely tracks U.S. consumption.  The U.S. formaldehyde market decreased by over 15%, between 2006 and 2010, largely due to the decline in the housing market and the construction industry.

The primary uses of formaldehyde are the manufacture of formaldehyde-based resins and as an intermediary in the manufacture of chemicals, plastics, and controlled-release fertilizers. Wood adhesives used to make plywood, particleboard and other manufactured wood products are the dominant end use of formaldehyde, accounting for 63% of the total worldwide consumption in 2009.  Formaldehyde resins can be grouped into two main categories: phenolic resins and amino resins (e.g., urea-formaldehyde and melanine-formaldehyde). Phenol-formaldehyde resins are used in plywood, varnishes, laminates and foam insulation. Amino resins are used in plywood, particle board, and medium density fiberboard (for use in cabinets and furniture). 

Formaldehyde is an intermediary chemical in the manufacture of several commercially important chemicals, including 1,4-butanediol (used to make polyurethane and spandex® fibers), methylene diisocyanate (MDI is a common substitute for formaldehyde in wood adhesives) and amino polycarboxylic acids (e.g., EDTA), which are used in cosmetics, pesticides and textile coatings.  Other end uses of formaldehyde include embalming agents, gasoline stabilizers, drying agents, preservatives in cosmetics, and biocides in metal machining fluids.

  • Seven facilities reported using formaldehyde in 2010, a decrease from 16 facilities in 1990.  In 2008 reported use of formaldehyde increased significantly due to reporting by one facility that in both prior and subsequent years claimed trade secret (as shown in Figure 1).
  • In 2010, Massachusetts’ facilities reported using more than 2.5 million pounds of formaldehyde under the Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) (see Table 1).
  • Three companies accounted for over 84% of Massachusetts’ publicly reportable formaldehyde use in 2010: The Dodge Company (manufacturer of embalming agents), Chemiplastica (manufacturer of urea- and melamine formaldehyde resins for molding dinnerware, medical products, and household fixtures) and Rohm & Haas Electronic Materials (manufacturer of specialty chemicals for use in printed wiring board fabrication and surface finishing).
  • One Massachusetts manufacturer, INEOS Melamines LLC in Springfield, typically claims trade secret when reporting formaldehyde use; trade secret information is not included in the publicly-available TURA database or in total quantities in this factsheet.  However, the 2008 data were not claimed trade secret, and indicated that INEOS Melamines used 10 times more formaldehyde than the other users combined for that reporting year.

Table 1 summarizes the uses of formaldehyde in Massachusetts in 1990 and 2010.  

Between 1990 and 2010, use of formaldehyde in Massachusetts dropped by almost 8.5 million pounds.

  • A significant change occurred between 1992 and 1993, when Chemiplastica (then Perstorp Compounds) decreased its formaldehyde use by 3.5 million pounds. Overall, Chemiplastica reduced its use of formaldehyde by approximately 5.2 million pounds from 1990 to 2010.
  • Between 1990 and 1991 The Dodge Company, which manufactures embalming chemicals, reported a one-time 750,000 pound reduction in formaldehyde processing.  This decrease was accompanied by an increase in methanol use of over 112,000 lb. Dodge then steadily increased its use of formaldehyde by over 60% from 1991 to 2010.
  • Borden & Remington, which has used formaldehyde to manufacture dispersants and also repackages formaldehyde for resale, first reported formaldehyde in 1991.  In 2004, their use decreased substantially, and they reported only repackaging formaldehyde for resale.

Figure 2 illustrates the percent changes in use by industry sector.  As shown in Figure 2, increases in use of formaldehyde between 1990 and 2010 are related to the coating and laminating applications.   

Lewcott Corporation had not used reportable amounts of formaldehyde in 1990.  It began reporting in 1993 and showed an 83% increase in use from 1993 to 2010.  Lewcott only represents about 8% of the total formaldehyde used in Massachusetts in 2010.  Suddekor is a relatively new manufacturer in Massachusetts, and has only been reporting on its use of formaldehyde since 2007.  Between 2007 and 2010 Suddekor has increased its use of formaldehyde by 70% (though the total amount of formaldehyde used by this company only represents about 2% of the total amount used in Massachusetts).

Both inputs (including formaldehyde that is manufactured or processed, as well as formaldehyde that is “otherwise used” – ancillary uses that do not become incorporated into the final product) and outputs (including formaldehyde that is generated as byproduct and the amount that is shipped in or as product) have been significantly reduced in the Commonwealth from 1990 to 2010. 

From 1990 to 2010 the amount of formaldehyde manufactured or processed was reduced by 73%; the amount of formaldehyde that was otherwise used decreased by more than 96%.  The amount shipped in product over the same time period was reduced by over 86% and the amount of byproduct generated decreased by over 67%.  Of note:

  • Chemiplastica reduced its generation of formaldehyde byproduct by 68,500 pounds, between 1990 and 2010. 
  • Bordon & Remington reported 1.2 million pounds of formaldehyde shipped in product and 13,800 pounds generated as byproduct in 1991.  By 2010 they had reduced both these quantities significantly – shipping only 74,569 pounds in product, and generating only 1 pound as byproduct (because dispersants no longer manufactured).
  • A significant contributor to the amount of byproduct generated in 1990 was PWA Rollan Décor, Inc. who reported 71,500 pounds.  Later purchased by Munksjo Paper, Inc., their byproduct had dropped to 11,137 lbs in 1998, their final year of reporting formaldehyde.