Scaled Management Systems

Formaldehyde vapour

Substitution is used as a solution to reduce formaldehyde vapour when working with human cadavers


Formaldehyde-preserved cadavers are periodically delivered to a university’s anatomy department. Previously, the cadavers were stored in tanks of formaldehyde solution until required for dissections. Formaldehyde levels measured in the laboratory where the cadavers were stored and during handling in the Anatomy Department indicated exposure levels in excess of prescribed threshold limit values (TLV).

Institute staff and students can be exposed to varying levels of formaldehyde vapour when working with human cadavers. Formaldehyde is labelled a ‘probable human carcinogen’ and a ‘sensitiser’ by WorkSafe Australia. Formaldehyde is also hazardous if it comes into contact with the skin.


The University has modified its embalming process to reduce formaldehyde exposure when embalming is performed.

In addition, the storage process has been altered with the use of formaldehyde solution discontinued and substituted with a safer alternative, a 1% solution of 2-Phenoxyethanol.

The substitute’s hazards were assessed and compared with formaldehyde with the substitute’s risk level being much lower. Follow-up air monitoring in the same laboratory has indicated a significant change in levels of formaldehyde to levels below prescribed TLVs.

Hierarchy of Controls:



  • Staff and students who work in the area are no longer exposed to the risks of vapours with the new solution.
  • The dangers in the storage and handling of the toxic product have also been reduced.
  • The preserved tissue is not altered, and results are comparable with that achieved by traditional preserving methods using formaldehyde.