Insight from Dr Ian Martin, Technical Manager

Well-known as an embalming and preservative fluid in morgues, formaldehyde also plays an important role in the construction, automotive and furniture industries.  It is not only a constituent component of resins used in the manufacture of wood products, such as particle board, but is also used in some adhesives, coatings and preservatives. In recent years, regulations across the globe have become ever stricter, and the use of formaldehyde has come under increasing scrutiny, not only as it can cause skin, eye, nose and throat irritation, but more importantly, as a natural carcinogen. What are the new regulations when it comes to formaldehyde, and what safer alternatives do formulators of flooring and coating products have that are not only good for the environment but good for users?

There are now occupational exposure limits for formaldehyde, with Formacare members - a sector of CEFIC (European Chemical Industry Council) representing all major formaldehyde producers in Europe - signing a voluntary agreement to implement a pan-European occupational exposure limit (OEL) for workers in the formaldehyde sector. The safe EU-wide binding occupational exposure limit is set at 0.3ppm (parts per million) for the eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA), and 0.6ppm for the short-term exposure limit (STEL).

Regulations are established to protect everybody, whether that be the public or workers, and it is the responsibility of businesses to be aware of their obligations to conform to these regulations, and implement measures to mitigate against any risk. There will be many companies that are aware and have actively adapted their manufacture processes or choices of materials to align with the regulations, but unfortunately there will be some that are have not. Sometimes this could be that they may simply be unaware that some products or materials that they formulate, or use, contain traces of formaldehyde that could be released into the environment. Therefore, the first stage in addressing this is making people more aware.

One example where this can happen is within the industrial epoxy floor coating market. Some traditional resin binder technologies can be based on Mannich reaction chemistry that uses formaldehyde as a key building block, and as such, typically contains a certain amount of residual formaldehyde. Therefore, the use of such resins must be considered, otherwise it could result in a product which releases formaldehyde into the environment at levels above the TWA threshold, and thus is no longer suitable under the current regulations.

Fortunately, there are alternative formaldehyde-free chemistries that can be used to replace this traditional technology, and companies such as Incorez are continually developing new products based on these safer chemistries. Amirez® products, sold by Incorez, are water-based curing agents that contain no formaldehyde, and can be used for various industrial applications, from primers and durable top-coats for flooring, to protective wall coatings. Amirez® resins therefore offer the epoxy coating
formulators the option to substitute potentially hazardous materials with more user and environmentally friendly materials, without compromising performance.

In the ever-evolving world of regulations, not only is it important for flooring formulators to review what their existing formulations contain on a regular basis, to ensure compliance, but also to be aware of what resins already exist that can be used for new developments to ensure future compliance. While there has been a positive shift towards water-based technologies, to satisfy VOC regulations, care and consideration still needs to be given to what residual chemicals and impurities could be present in those systems, as they could still contain chemicals that are potentially harmful to health. As a company, we are always searching for better, cleaner and safer ways of doing things, and by working together with our customers, we can support the creation of cleaner and friendlier end products, for the benefit of society and the environment.