Exposure to formaldehyde and asthma outcomes: A systematic review, meta-analysis, and economic assessment

Juleen Lam, Erica Koustas, Patrice Sutton, Amy M. Padula, Michael D. Cabana, Hanna Vesterinen, Charles Griffiths, Mark Dickie, Natalyn Daniels, Evans Whitaker, Tracey J. Woodruff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background Every major federal regulation in the United States requires an economic analysis estimating its benefits and costs. Benefit-cost analyses related to regulations on formaldehyde exposure have not included asthma in part due to lack of clarity in the strength of the evidence. Objectives 1) To conduct a systematic review of evidence regarding human exposure to formaldehyde and diagnosis, signs, symptoms, exacerbations, or other measures of asthma in humans; and 2) quantify the annual economic benefit for decreases in formaldehyde exposure. Methods We developed and registered a protocol in PROSPERO (Record ID #38766, CRD 42016038766). We conducted a comprehensive search of articles published up to April 1, 2020. We evaluated potential risk of bias for included studies, identified a subset of studies to combine in a meta-analysis, and rated the overall quality and strength of the evidence. We quantified economics benefit to children from a decrease in formaldehyde exposure using assumptions consistent with EPA's proposed formaldehyde rule. Results We screened 4,821 total references and identified 150 human studies that met inclusion criteria; of these, we focused on 90 studies reporting asthma status of all participants with quantified measures of formaldehyde directly relevant to our study question. Ten studies were combinable in a meta-analysis for childhood asthma diagnosis and five combinable for exacerbation of childhood asthma (wheezing and shortness of breath). Studies had low to probably-low risk of bias across most domains. A 10-Μg/m3 increase in formaldehyde exposure was associated with increased childhood asthma diagnosis (OR = 1.20, 95% CI: [1.02, 1.41]). We also found a positive association with exacerbation of childhood asthma (OR = 1.08, 95% CI: [0.92, 1.28]). The overall quality and strength of the evidence was rated as "moderate"quality and "sufficient"for asthma diagnosis and asthma symptom exacerbation in both children and adults. We estimated that EPA's proposed rule on pressed wood products would result in 2,805 fewer asthma cases and total economic benefit of $210 million annually. Conclusion We concluded there was "sufficient evidence of toxicity"for associations between exposure to formaldehyde and asthma diagnosis and asthma symptoms in both children and adults. Our research documented that when exposures are ubiquitous, excluding health outcomes from benefit-cost analysis can underestimate the true benefits to health from environmental regulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0248258
JournalPloS one
Issue number3 March 2021
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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