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It’s Raining. It’s Pouring . . . and Snowing . . . Formaldehyde 

By Andrea Silverthorne

Part 3  Part 2 Part 1

Looking back in 2003, at increasing levels of formaldehyde, as measured in 1996, Kelly Chance and Thomas P. Kurosu, of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge Massachusetts, wrote a report on the columns of formaldehyde gas observed by satellite. They found that the levels above were consistent with ground levels, and that they were highest in the summer in hotter areas (Palmer, P.I. et al. 2003). It is worthy of note that the highest levels by far were found in Al Gore’s state of Tennessee.

Formaldehyde is a very heavy gas, one of the heaviest, along with hydrogen peroxide. Formaldehyde oxidizes out of methane at a high level; methane gas is very light. Methane’s place in the atmosphere corresponds to the area where it turns cooler. Once the oxidation is complete, the gas falls to earth, like a lucifer with a small-l, because it is so much heavier.

methane oxidationThe Harvard authors’ report mentions methane oxidation to formaldehyde as a contributor to rising formaldehyde levels, but the report concentrates and focuses on blaming the formaldehyde gas increase on isoprene output by trees; it too oxidizes to formaldehyde. The institution focuses on trees at a time when methane, according to most scientists was increasing rapidly. Trees cannot be considered as a source of the rising formaldehyde levels, only a contributor, and how they figure into safety issues is not explained by the scientists. Trees in greater numbers have been around for a long time, and also to consider is the fact, according to Elizabeth Mygatt, at the Earth Policy Institute, forests had been decreasing at the rate of 8.9 million hectares a year worldwide during the 1990’s when the study was done. North America was one of the bigger world offenders, with Europe and South America the only continents ahead of them in hectares lost (Mygatt, Elizabeth 2006).

By the year 2000, John S. Wettlaufer and J Greg Dash, writing for Scientific American magazine, reveal the fact it did not matter how cold it was outside, there is always a film of liquid water on top of snow packs and ice. Shortly after this report, scientific reports measuring air/gas exchange for both formaldehyde and hydrogen peroxide began. In fact, the interest in the subject was described by one scientist as “considerable”(Dassau, T.M. 2002) The reports are summarized below: (Dassau, T.M. et al.2002; Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002; Dibb, Jack E. et al. 2007; 45 Hohreiter and Rigg 2001; Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006)

  • Once it was thought that formaldehyde oxidized in our atmosphere during the daylight hours. In the year 2000, in Greenland scientists discovered that formaldehyde was actually the Dracula of the daylight hours, disappearing into the snow pack surface at night and re emerging when the sun came up, and it warmed (Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002). They also found during the period studied the amounts in the snow pack were increasing dramatically, 80% in just a little over a month(June-July), and it was noted that emissions increased greatly— and for longer periods — after new snow was deposited (Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002). The scientist noted that wind and humidity are also factors; humidity increased deposition rates by ten times; when there are high winds, the level’s decrease; however, they did not say where the formaldehyde was blown to. The conclusion was: snow provided both formaldehyde and hydrogen peroxide with temporary night time shelter( Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002).
  • A group of scientists revisited Greenland and wrote an updated report in 2007 looking at activity in 2003 and 2004 and this time they looked at earlier spring levels as well as mid summer. It was clear that the warmer it got the higher the release of formaldehyde flux to the air, i.e. — snow melt (Dibb, Jack E. et al. 2007). While the scientist do not say so, this would mean that levels at points south, would peak sooner and correlate with the high levels of formaldehyde at ground level, such as the United States and Canadian levels attributed to trees by the Harvard scientists, rather than snow pack release. This leaves us to ponder where all the formaldehyde from on high headed to earth was going during the summer. Perhaps it was headed to our oceans, rivers land, ponds and streams.

Scientist working in Turkey did the same experiments with water, reporting on the results in March of 2006 , and they found that formaldehyde deposits in liquid water as well as snow. They noted that: “Wet deposit may be a significant source of HCHO to aquatic systems since concentrations in rainwater are expected to be higher than in surface waters” (Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006; Economou &Mihalopoulous, 2002; Kieber, Rines, Wiley and Brooks Avery,1999). The scientist also noted that formaldehyde reacts “significantly” with water and fluxes back and forth to the air (Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006). It forms methane diol immediately upon entering the water. Methane diol is the formal name for formalin, the toxic preservative that was used in laboratories. It was also noted in this report that wind and humidity affect deposition rates; wind decreased them; humidity increased them. The authors suggested in a report in June of the same year that HCHO degradation in water be studied further (Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006).

Elizabeth Kolbert mentions in her piece “The Sixth Extinction?” that the bats were” almost weightless. (Kolbert, New Yorker, 12) All reports on bats note abnormal weights and fat reserves in the bats. This is a symptom of formaldehyde poisoning. Studies have been done on the effects of formaldehyde on animals and humans (Sandikci, M. 2009; Morgan, Kevin T. 1984). Even in low levels it causes immune reactions. Lowered immunity allows fungi and parasites to attack; we all know that from watching the sag of the AIDS virus. As levels go higher it can cause hypothermia, asphyxiation, and ultimately acidosis, which literally eats you from the inside out. In a 1983 study done on small animals, some of the animals’ weight loss began after just two weeks, and this was an inhalation study. ( Morgan, Kevin T. 1984) A more recent study on rats done for a period of time of thirteen weeks, a period fifty percent less than the 1983 study, showed life threatening liver damage after dissection (Cikmaz, Selman, et al. 2010).

Formaldehyde can produce the dizziness and stupor exhibited by the bats and formaldehyde ingested through water is the worst form of poisoning (IPCS, 1989). The Bats drink water in dark caves. Bats put their nose, and usually tips of their ears and wings, in the water when they drink, and that is where they are exhibiting the fungus. Formaldehyde is one of the heaviest gases and it falls to the lowest point, and that includes caves. Caves are dark. There are low oxidation opportunities in caves. At low, continuous levels, formaldehyde produces immune and allergen reaction. (IPCS, 1989) Formaldehyde does not smell until it reaches .3ppm. According to a study done by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) for the United Nations in 1989, no studies on long term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde have been done, although this study is better than EPA studies and newer. The long report (171 pages), makes the following statement:

Formaldehyde is naturally formed in the troposphere during the oxidation of hydrocarbons. These react with OH    radicals and ozone to form formaldehyde and/or other aldehydes as intermediates in a series of reactions that ultimately lead to the formation of carbon monoxide and dioxide, hydrogen, and water (Zimmermann et al., 1978; Calvert, 1980).

Of the hydrocarbons found in the troposphere, methane occurs in the highest concentration (1.18 mg/m in the northern hemisphere. Thus, it provides the single most important source of formaldehyde (Lowe et al., 1981).

Terpenes and isoprene, emitted by foliage, react with the OH radicals, forming formaldehyde as an intermediate product (Zimmermannet al., 1978). Because of their short life-times, this potentially important source of formaldehyde is only important in the vicinity of vegetation (Lowe et al., 1981). (IPCS 1989)

Remember the Harvard report tying the columns of formaldehyde high in the air to isoprene from plants? It can not be possible. The gas is heavy and falls to the ground from the leaves and dissipates quickly. The IPCS report says it stays in close proximity to the plant. More importantly foliage as noted before has been decreasing from deforestation not increasing. Aircraft observation charts in the Harvard report had to be formaldehyde falling to earth form methane oxidation above. Writing for the New Jersey government, author Heidi Mass notes that bats, at death, exhibit: “…depleted fat reserves. Bats utilize caves during the winter to hibernate since their primary food source, insects, is not available. They need their fat reserves to make it through the winter. Something is attacking these mammals, and no one knows what is causing their demise. It is a case of the chicken or the egg” (Mass, J. Heidi 2009). In the spring of 2009, Mass makes it clear experts have not definitively said that bats are being killed by the fungus and she goes on to say:

Fungi normally act as one of nature’s recyclers, helping to decompose dead organisms. However, as we know in  humans, fungi can grow out of control when the natural bacteria that keep them in check in our bodies are depleted. So, it would make sense that the fungus attacking the bats is taking advantage of an opportunity it never had in the past. The fungus does not just grow on the fur; it actually infiltrates the hair follicles and skin of the bat. So the question remains, what else is attacking the bats? This question is being asked . . . .  (Mass, J. Heidi 2009)

The same question has to be asked when looking at a fungus as the prime source or secondary source of the frogs’ death. There have not been many experiments of the effects of formaldehyde on Frogs; more have been done on fish as the chemical has been used to kill parasites of fish The most recent this author could find was a study by Brazilian group of biologists that studied low levels of formaldehyde on frog’s respiratory system for sixty minutes and their conclusion was chilling: Concentrations as low as 1.25 ppm, well below the countries legal limit, caused breath impairment ( Flo-Neyret, C. 2001). One much earlier study used a level much higher but also for short periods of time. This study found 1.37 ppm had an effect, but this study was only done for thirty minutes. These same scientists found that .28 ppm had no effect for the same thirty minutes. And the study noted something else that the other did not Formaldehyde in water reduces oxygen levels. (Morgan, Kevin T. 1984) which means methane seeps in our oceans as described by Kvenvolden and Rogers are doing the same thing because it oxidizes in water too.

The question is: Are there levels of formaldehyde in the water and air within close proximity to the ground, containing just enough formaldehyde not to create an odor (.3ppm), but high enough on day after day, long term exposure to kill outright, or affect the life’s immune system and kill slowly. Is it infiltrating our homes and hanging out on the floor?

Scientists conducting a fall 2000 study striving to derive an ambient safe level for formaldehyde in water for the United States government were instructed to compile and evaluate old data. No new tests of water where aquatic animals were experiencing immune disorders and death were undertaken. The report said: “It is important to note that most of the data regarding formaldehyde toxicity to aquatic organisms was generated in the 1960s and 1970s” (Hohreiter and Rigg 2001). The goal of the study was to establish a new level for the USEPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency; the figure was lowered to 1.61 mg/l when the study was completed. The scientists pointed out little of the old data addressed chronic level toxicity, only acute, and for short term exposure, mostly for the application of pesticide to fish to kill parasites. Even the chronic tests lasted only between seven and twenty-four days. Salamanders were the exception; they were tested for ninety days. The scientist also noted that all the data was conducted in tests that predated GPL practices (good laboratory practices), and they noted much uncertainty was expressed by older scientists looking at the results of their own tests.

The tests were so inconclusive the government did authorize one new test for acute and chronic levels on a small shrimp. Old data on frogs showed that tadpoles were more sensitive, but both tadpoles and adults were only tested for seventy-two hours; therefore, no testing has been done of our fresh or salt water systems since the 1970’s. There was a bioaccumulation test done in 1985 which showed none, but it was later noted that formaldehyde does not bioaccumulate. That is a true statement because formaldehyde converts to formic acid in the body. This author views this report as reminiscent of the government reports on drilling safety for the Gulf of Mexico that mentioned walruses.

The CNN web site link from the main story discussed has many short one paragraph stories on extinctions. This author looked at two stories on extinctions, lions and fresh water turtles. In both cases it was found that the animals in the past two decades are being attacked by parasites, fungi and viruses that do not normally attack them, all compromised immune system symptoms. C. Kenneth Dodd, writing in his 2001 book on the North American Box Turtle observed in a very measured tone:

It is important to recognize that proximate symptoms of pathology, whether shown by obvious signs of disease, increased levels of parasitism, or adverse effects on reproduction, may be reflective of a problem that might be difficult to identify. Proximate symptoms do not always lead to the ultimate cause, and examination procedures need to be developed accordingly. In flattened Musk Turtles, the symptoms I observed were indicative of a more serious problem affecting the turtles. Although the turtles had different symptoms (Dodd, 1988), and may have died from more than one immediate cause, they all had compromised immune systems. The reason for the collapse of the immune system remains unknown (Dodd, 2001)

Chinese scientists discovered symptoms indicative of formaldehyde poising also, but they called it white-spot disease; a fungus was the cause, they said; the turtles also experienced anorexia and eventual death ( Li XL 2008). Sea Turtles stared to grow tumors and die, in the nineties. The disease was called, Fibropapilloma (FP). National Geographic quoted a theory of a scientist saying it was herpes caught from sewage run off. The web site Turtle Traxs supplies links to studies at the University of Florida that say this theory is unproven and that it is an immune disorder: The herpes virus has never been identified or isolated in turtles. ( Keuper-Bennett, Ursula 2003)

The CNN story on lions blames man for over hunting; ninety percent of the African lion population has disappeared in the last 25 years. Repeat: ninety percent have perished. It began in 1984. Lions that were never infected before with Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) succumbed to it. Biologist and pathologists examining dead lions found that they were infected with a water buffalo parasite in great numbers that never infected them before. The two factors combined to kill the lion (Alexander, K.A. 2009; Gowtage-Sequeira, S. 2009). Again, this is a traditional reaction to a compromised immune system, opportunistic invasion. Animal Rights Africa released a report on hunting in South Africa this past summer, and even they noted that while against hunting because of the animals’ greatly depleted numbers, that there are not enough records to confirm hunting as a cause of the high decline rates. (Pickover, Michele 2010).

In January 2006, a report covering the years 1977-2004, found most African countries harvest small amounts of lions ranging between two and four percent Zimbabwe and Zambia are the exception in the years 1988-2004, hunting almost nine percent of its lion population, but they subsequently imposed five year bans. The study notes that while South Africa was about the same kill rate as the higher rate countries, it included farm raised lions, raised for the specific purpose of hunting them. The study concluded that hunting practices in Africa are prudent, although they recommended raising the age of lions allowed to be killed (Packer and Craig 2006). Lions are dying in great numbers from auto immune diseases, according to lion disease specialists. CNN did no research on the press release story attributing their astronomical decline to hunting.

A picture of bees’ hives sitting on snow can be seen on the examiner.com web site. http://www.examiner.com/northeast-beekeeping-in-national/how-honey-bees-survive-a-northeast-winter-part-3-beekeeper-s-tricks. The snow is two to three feet deep and snow sits on top of the hives. Recall that formaldehyde hides in the snow at night and then off gasses when the sun comes up, and that it is warmer in the Northeast in winter than Greenland; heavy off gassing would start in late February or earlier with a mild winter, and it would intensify with each new snow fall? at all times. Formaldehyde levels in American and Canadian snow should be tested.

Continue to Part 4 For a list of Sources click here

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About the author: Luis Miranda

Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at The Real Agenda. His career spans over 19 years and almost every form of news media. He attended Montclair State University's School of Broadcasting and also obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. Luis speaks English, Spanish Portuguese and Italian.

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