Last Friday, my plan to go out to a local concert with a posse of girlfriends all went south when an unexpected encounter with formaldehyde hit my lungs so hard I couldn’t leave home for three days.

I refer to this incident as The Formaldehyde Cloud of 2016 (TFC of 2016).

formaldehyde incident

I’m extremely allergic to formaldehyde, and for those of you who don’t know, this toxic embalming fluid is used in all sorts of products that we buy: curtains, clothing, towels and, though perhaps not as commonly, in cheap furniture.

The Original Formaldehyde Incident (TOFI)

When Steffan and I took a trip to Paris several years ago, we stayed at a small hotel and at one point I asked for fresh towels. Those were promptly delivered and I used a towel to dry my hands after washing up. Within seconds, my hands started prickling, painfully.

A few seconds after that, it felt like my hands were burning. My eyes became intensely dry and hot. My tongue swelled up, my breathing became wheezy and painful, my neck started swelling and I had a harsh, painful rash lining the inside of my mouth.

I washed and gurgled and rinsed as much as I could – and let myself air-dry. We asked for freshly washed towels, not freshly purchased ones.

“You can’t get cleaner than never-used before!” Explained the baffled maid.

Well, yes you can. You really have no idea what you’re rubbing into your skin if you’ve never washed your new clothes or towels. When I go shopping, I often have a terrible time – because I prickle everywhere, I feel hot, I have difficulty breathing. It isn’t a panic attack. It’s an allergy attack.

We need a new regulation.

We have all sorts of regulations about food and medicine, and how companies must be forthcoming about what they put in the things we digest (and they do tell us, though they trickster around it by making up new names for stuff you wouldn’t ever want to put in your body).

To date, what companies put in our furniture does not need to be explained at all. They do not have to tell us how they are treating (treating with chemicals) any materials that they use. Leather, cloth, wood, pressed wood – they can do whatever they want with it. At no point in the retail deal must anyone explain how their product was manufactured.

A side note about leather furniture.

This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to purchase good quality leather furniture. They don’t have to explain that the leather was horizontally sliced 3-4 times, stretched, treated with chemicals, and that a leather-texture was stamped on the material. (I’m not making this up, just so you know.)

That manufacturer can proudly announce that it’s 100% Genuine Leather. What they should say is that it’s actually just 25% of the whole – but no, it’s certainly 100% of whatever they’re using. Not like they’re lying. They’re just not obligated to share the whole truth.

If they can pull stuff like this with leather products – what I’m sure most people imagine to be an all-natural product, what might they be doing with the products we know to be fully manufactured and filled with chemicals?

No one at any point is held accountable to the customer wanting to purchase these products.

If I had known then what I know now…

Given my severe allergy, I would not have purchased a certain Ikea dresser if I had known it was drenched in formaldehyde. We needed a cheap dresser, just a simple container to hold our stuff. So we got one, not giving the possibility of my not being able to breathe a single thought.

I only went into my bedroom, where the dresser was standing, and rested on the bed for a little bit. It wasn’t long at all before I started to wheeze. My skin started to prickle everywhere and my eyes were burning.

I thought, “What’s happening to me?” I was just lying there in my own home. I got up and left the room. In leaving that space, I felt immediately better.

But I spent the entire weekend at home, because I was in too much pain to go out. Breathing was labored and – I was wiped out. An attack like that is exhausting and difficult to recover from. I didn’t really feel like myself again until Monday afternoon.

That Friday evening, I had to send my friends a text message: “I’m really sorry but I can’t come to the concert. I was exposed to formaldehyde fumes and have problems breathing.”

This Friday morning, we girls met as we usually do. You can bet I had some explaining to do about that!

My friend Mona said, “You always have such strange things that happen to you!” Tell me about it.


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