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Pentaerythritol Synthesis

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound with the formula CH2O (H-CHO). It is the simplest of the aldehydes (R-CHO) and is also known by its systematic name methanal. The common name of this substance comes from its similarity and relation to formic acid. Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a pungent, distinct odor and is used in various chemical manufacturing processes, primarily in the production of industrial resins, such as urea-formaldehyde and phenol-formaldehyde resins.

Properties and Structure[edit | edit source]

Formaldehyde is a highly reactive, flammable gas at room temperature. It is soluble in water, alcohol, and other solvents. The structure of formaldehyde consists of a carbon atom double-bonded to an oxygen atom (carbonyl group) and two hydrogen atoms, making it the simplest member of the aldehyde group.

Production[edit | edit source]

Formaldehyde is primarily produced by the catalytic oxidation of methanol. The most common process involves methanol and air in the presence of a metal oxide catalyst. This process yields formaldehyde along with a small amount of formic acid.

Uses[edit | edit source]

Formaldehyde's primary use is in the production of industrial resins and plastics. For instance, urea-formaldehyde resins are used in the manufacture of particle board and other pressed wood products, while phenol-formaldehyde resins are essential in the production of insulation materials. Formaldehyde is also used as a preservative in some paints and coatings, and as a disinfectant and biocide in medical laboratories and other settings.

Health Concerns[edit | edit source]

Exposure to formaldehyde can cause various health issues. Short-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde may lead to respiratory discomfort, skin irritation, and eye irritation. Long-term exposure has been associated with more severe health effects, including certain types of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a Group 1 carcinogen, indicating that there is sufficient evidence that it can cause cancer in humans.

Regulation[edit | edit source]

Due to its potential health risks, the use and handling of formaldehyde are regulated in many countries. Regulations may include limits on workplace exposure levels, requirements for safety equipment and ventilation systems, and restrictions on the concentration of formaldehyde in consumer products.

Environmental Impact[edit | edit source]

Formaldehyde is also a significant concern in terms of environmental impact. It can be released into the air from industrial processes and burning of biomass and fossil fuels. Once in the atmosphere, formaldehyde acts as a volatile organic compound (VOC), contributing to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog, which have adverse effects on air quality and human health.


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD