Formaldehyde is a colorless gas that can cause breathing problems, throat irritations and a variety of other unpleasant side effects. Since formaldehyde is a carcinogen (a cancer causing agent) , it's dangerous to have in the home and kitchen -- particularly since its toxic properties are increased with heat [source: CDC]. A small amount of formaldehyde occurs naturally in most woods, but mills don't have to add in more as the binding resin (the adhesive that holds layers of plywood and particleboard together). When wood or particleboard is treated with formaldehyde, it makes the material difficult to recycle or reuse. For instance, you wouldn't want to chop up old formaldehyde-treated cabinets and use them as firewood because of the chemicals they'd release into the air. Particleboard is made from a variety of fibers and woods and then sealed with a binding agent (like formaldehyde). Fortunately, there are much more planet-friendly alternatives for resins:
- MDI (methylene diphenyl isocyanate) - It can be toxic to manufacture but won't add formaldehyde to the material .
- PVA (polyvinyl acetate) -- It's organic and holds up well over time; it's not related to dangerous PVC.
- Soy Flour - It's the most natural source but is still being tested for long-term effectiveness.[source: Wood Adhesives]
Most cabinet-makers and suppliers have low-toxicity options available. Check with your local retailers and, additionally, ask if the materials are certified by a major environmental program such as FSP, ESP (Environmental Stewardship Program) or Green Seal.