Ohio State researcher developing app to detect dangerous chemicals in homes

Formaldehyde app (10TV)

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A local researcher is gearing up to reveal a new app that would allow families to keep tabs on the chemicals within the air inside their homes.

"We spend 90% of our time indoors and the air in most of our homes contains formaldehyde. Formaldehyde exposure can worsen health," said Dr. Karen Dannemiller, Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University, joint appointment in Civil Environmental and Geodetic Engineering and Environmental Health Sciences.

Dr. Dannemiller and her team have completed the beta phase and field testing for their app. Her goal is to offer residents a cheap way of testing the amount of formaldehyde in their household and offer them education on what to do. She is working now to bring it to the market. It uses a color-changing gauze or badge. Users take a photo with their phone before setting the badge in their home and another picture after it has been left inside their home for 72 hours. The photos are submitted through her app and it calculates the formaldehyde levels based on the photo's color change.

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According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Formaldehyde (CH₂O) is a colorless, highly toxic and flammable gas at room temperature. It is used in the production of fertilizer, paper, plywood, and some resins. It is also used as a food preservative and in household products, such as antiseptics, medicines and cosmetics. Exposure to formaldehyde can irritate the skin, throat, lungs and eyes. NIOSH reports repeated exposure to formaldehyde can possibly lead to cancer and workers may be harmed by exposure to formaldehyde. The level of exposure depends upon the dose, duration and work being done.

"Within your home there really is no universal standard and it is up to you to watch out," said team member of the developing app and graduate Ph.D student studying environmental science Sarah Haines. "Just as you think about 'What is in my food?' 'What am I putting into my body?' Well, think about what you are inhaling into your body."

Especially people in sensitive groups and those with asthma are recommended to be mindful of what is in their homes, but some workplaces involve exposures. Formaldehyde is used in many industries. It’s used in glues and resins, dyes, textiles, disinfectants, building materials, automobile parts, embalming and laboratories.

Some of Dannemiller's app testing was funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. It is not yet ready for the market, but Dr. Dannemiller said she hopes that will happen in about one year. The app also provides information on recommended formaldehyde levels and tips on reducing exposure if the concentration is high.

More information on Formaldehyde and health can be found here, here and here.