The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added 12 substances to their list of known human carcinogens, including formaldehyde and styrene, this month. Styrene is a precurser to the plastic polystyrene, or PS (#6), which is one of the most commonly produced plastics in the world. Several billion kilograms of the stuff is produced every year. You may come into contact with this plastic most commonly in those ubiquitus red plastic cups (beer anyone?). According to the article, the general population’s greatest exposure to styrene is through cigarette smoking.
Formaldehyde is most commonly found in adhesives used in home construction materials (particle board, fiberboard, plywood, laminant flooring), although it’s also used as a preservative in cosmetics like hair straighteners and even in clothing (that nice wrinkle-free collared shirt your husband wears may very well contain it). While you may not be that concerned about the formaldehyde in your kitchen cabinets or furniture, you should know that it off-gases and is one of the contributors to poor indoor air quality. An amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act by President Obama last year would set limits on formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products that will go into effect in 2013. Until then, you can improve your home’s indoor air quality by ventilating it as much as possible or by cleaning the air with certain indoor plants.