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From Jackie with Love: Unintentional embalming

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By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

Did you know we can have toxic levels of formaldehyde in our bodies? I found this shocking. Unless you’re a funeral director who’s business it is to embalm the deceased, I couldn’t imagine how this is possible.

Formaldehyde is a simple compound made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and is a colorless, strong-smelling gas. It belongs to the family of chemical compounds called volatile organic compounds. Our bodies produce small amounts of formaldehyde. It serves as a chemical building block for cells to live and grow, and exists naturally in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

But the man-made world we live in has increased the levels of formaldehyde so much that it can be hazardous to our health. Overexposure can irritate our eyes, skin, nose and throat and can increase the risk of cancer. My intention isn’t to create fear here-it’s to create awareness so we can make informed choices.

Widespread information about the dangers of formaldehyde circulated in the mid-1970s when people experienced respiratory problems from urea foam formaldehyde insulation. Although UFFI was banned in 1982, the ban was lifted a year later and formaldehyde continues to be used in building materials and products.

It makes its way into our homes through plywood, fiberboard, particleboard, glue, timber paneling and laminates.

When building a home, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends using “exterior grade” pressed-wood products. They give off less formaldehyde because they contain phenol resins rather than urea resins. However, even though certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, these products still expose users and workers to formaldehyde at lower levels.

Look for furniture, cabinetry, flooring and upholsteries made without urea-formaldehyde glues; pressed-wood products that meet ultra-low emitting formaldehyde or no added formaldehyde requirements; products labeled “No VOC/Low VOC,” and insulation that does not have urea-formaldehyde foam.

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are also used in bath, body and beauty products as a preservative that helps prevent bacterial growth. They can be found in shampoos, nail polish, conditioners, toothpastes, sunscreens, perfumes, cosmetics, soap and baby-wipes. It’s worth noting that the European Chemical Agency has banned the use of formaldehyde in beauty products.

Products containing synthetic fragrances like dryer sheets, laundry/dish detergents and air fresheners can all release formaldehyde into your environment. Synthetic fabrics used to make clothing, sheets, pillows and curtains are often treated with urea-formaldehyde resins.

So what are we to do? It seems that many companies brush the dangers off by claiming that the amount of formaldehyde in their products is too low to be a health risk. And while that’s probably true, health issues can result from exposure coming from so many different sources.

Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate these products so they’re usually permitted to use chemicals as they please. That said, it’s up to us, the consumers, to get informed, read labels and buy products that we trust, made by companies that care about our health and the environment.

Also, there are ways we can take care of our bodies to ensure they’re working optimally and filtering out impurities. Read the next edition of Explore Big Sky where I’ll write about how to keep your body’s internal filtration system as clean and healthy as possible to prevent chemical overload.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant, TEDx speaker and coach. For a complimentary health consultation, visit and schedule your meeting today.

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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