Cancer causing chemical could be lurking in your home: new app detects it

Ohio State professor developed a formaldehyde detector app

Cancer causing chemical could be lurking in your home: new app detects it
Karen C. Dannemiller, an engineering professor at The Ohio State University, discusses her formaldehyde detector app. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 News has warned you in the past that dangerous chemicals could be lurking in your home.

But how do you know, when you can’t see them?

Smartphone app detects formaldehyde inside your home in just 72 hours

A professor originally from Northeast Ohio designed a first of its kind app that can detect formaldehyde in just 72 hours, protecting your family in just a few simple steps.

We spend 90 percent of our time inside and it's hard to believe, but indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air.

19 News investigated a major cause of indoor air pollution-- your furniture-- last year.

Now we're digging deeper into the dangers of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde levels are checked inside of a lab at The Ohio State University.
Formaldehyde levels are checked inside of a lab at The Ohio State University. (Source: The Ohio State University)

Formaldehyde is an ear, nose and throat irritant. It can cause difficulty breathing and even cause cancer.

It's just one of many Volatile Organic Compounds, known as VOCs, you can find in furniture.

It also lurks in your house in other places-- your shelves, cabinets, flooring, draperies and in pressed wood products like particleboard.

“It's present in just about everyone's home, and in a small subset of homes, it's present at levels that might be harmful to human health,” said Karen C. Dannemiller, PhD, an engineering professor at The Ohio State University.

“Particularly for children with asthma, if this is a trigger for them, they could be getting this trigger out of their house and then ending up in the emergency room or something like that. So we're hoping we can help them identify these things in their home that can potentially help improve their health,” Dannemiller said.

She started a team to develop an inexpensive way to detect indoor formaldehyde levels with a smartphone app and color-changing badges.

A professor at Ohio State University has developed an app that detects formaldehyde levels.
A professor at Ohio State University has developed an app that detects formaldehyde levels. (Source: WOIO)

Dannemiller showed 19 News how the SmART-FORM app works.

“You can click on new test right here on the main screen. You can enter a title for your test such as bedroom or living room, wherever you're taking the test,” she said, using the app on her cell phone.

“You tap here to take a before picture, and so you go down, take a picture of the badge and then up here you hit save and it's going to start a timer. So it will start a 72 hour timer and at that time point you'll receive notification on your phone that it's time to take the second picture,” Dannemiller said.

“You take the after picture of the badge, hit save, and then it will give you a formaldehyde concentration,” she continued, showing us what the end result would look like.

Testing formaldehyde levels at a lab at The Ohio State University.
Testing formaldehyde levels at a lab at The Ohio State University. (Source: The Ohio State University)

After you find out what your formaldehyde concentration is in your room, there is an explainer on what to do next from The Ohio State University.

19 News asked Dannemiller how accurate the app is.

“It's going to give you a good ballpark level of what your formaldehyde is. We see it as sot of an initial screening tool, so it's not necessarily going to tell you exactly what it is, but it is going to tell you if it's high or not or something that you need to be concerned about,” she said.

We also asked her whether the app can pinpoint the source of formaldehyde.

“So it won't necessarily tell you precisely what the source is, but then you can read the information in the app and start to try to identify what that is and you could potentially remove that source and then test again later,” Dannemiller said.

The SmART-FORM app is free, and badges cost $5 a badge.

It will launch in about a year.

You can also buy formaldehyde detectors online, they run from $60 to $400.

Resources

So what can you do if you find out you have high formaldehyde levels in your home?

-Try to remove the sources

-Reduce your use of paints and adhesives

-Don’t allow smoking inside

-Air out the house whenever it’s nice outside

You can find out how to improve your indoor air quality with these tips from the EPA, WHO, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and SmarterHouse.

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