Particle board has been under a lot of scrutiny. It contains formaldehyde, a known carcinogen that has been directly linked to nasopharyngeal carcinoma (throat cancer) in people. The chemical can also cause, headaches, allergies, nausea and a burning sensation in the throat. It is nasty, nasty stuff.
A lot of household items are made of particle board: Cheap bookshelves, furniture, etc. Particle board has even been used in the construction of mobile homes and trailers. After Hurricane Katrina, many of the refugees had to live in cheap trailers that had been contaminated by formaldehyde in the particle board. This caused quite the public outcry, but it raised awareness of the material's dangers.
But how long is particle board toxic? Surely there must be some sort of half-life to the particle board's toxicity.
There is. The news is not wonderful. Particle board takes 5 to 10 years to outgas.
Here is the breakdown:
In under two months, particle board decreases its toxicity by about 25% . By the end of one year, particle board is only half as potent as it was new. It levels off from there and can take up to ten years to run completely out of gas.
Particle board is made from recycled material if that's any consolation. If you buy pressed wood furniture or other products containing formaldehyde, make sure they are placed in a well-ventilated area, and I would probably let them sit in a garage or shed for two months before bringing it in your house. (not buying them at all is probably the best bet.) Make sure to weigh the risks of contamination against the affordability of particle board.