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October 9, 1981

The Uncertain Consequences of Formaldehyde Toxicity

JAMA. 1981;246(15):1677-1678. doi:10.1001/jama.1981.03320150025021

FOR MANY years, pathologists and their assistants have been crying over formaldehyde in much the same way as cooks cry over onions. Itchy eyes, a running nose, browning or blistering of the fingers,1 and coughing and respiratory distress (even to the point of acute pulmonary congestion with edema)2 has been the lot of pathologists, their residents, and their assistants.

Formaldehyde toxic reactions have been an accepted part of the profession, whether one hovers over the cutting board with biopsy specimens or takes "pickled" organs out of the earthenware containers for student demonstrations. Fume-filled anatomy rooms and pathology museums have been a part of the medical student's heritage. Now all that may be rapidly on its way out.

Why the sudden concern to put specimens under hoods, to find ways of flushing out preparation rooms to rid them of the formaldehyde residues, to ventilate storage rooms, and to use