Formalin, an aqueous solution of formaldehyde, is widely used in tissue preservation protocols due its favorable fixative properties. However, its routine use in healthcare settings may also expose workers to underappreciated hazards. In studies stretching back several decades, exposure to formaldehyde, the main ingredient in formalin, has been linked to respiratory tract and skin irritation after immediate exposure. Long-term formaldehyde exposure has also been shown to increase the risk for developing nasopharyngeal cancer, sinonasal cancer, and myeloid leukemia. Indeed, basic science research and studies in various animal models have revealed the mutagenic potential of formaldehyde, underscoring the need for safety protocols that help mitigate exposure. The recent introduction of innovative solutions for specimen handling are helping to reduce or eliminate formaldehyde exposure in healthcare settings. Merit has recently published a white paper regarding the risk of formaldehyde exposure and the innovations helping to reduce that risk. Read more here.
Formalin, a 37% to 40% aqueous solution of formaldehyde, is widely used in tissue preparation protocols. The fixative properties of formaldehyde were discovered serendipitously in the late 19th century by the German physician Ferdinand Blum, who was studying the chemical as a potential antiseptic.1 However, formaldehyde exposure in occupational settings is associated with numerous health hazards, including eye2 and respiratory stress,3 as well as potentially elevated risk for cancer locally at the site of exposure4 and distally after the initiation of carcinogenic pathways.5
In light of these concerns, several regulatory and oversight bodies have established safe handling protocols, as well as a series of rules and regulations that employers must follow to ensure safe working conditions for individuals potentially exposed to formaldehyde as a result of using formalin.6,7 Most of these recommendations focus on the idea of ensuring that exposure does not exceed safety standards that have been established in numerous scientific studies.