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Formaldehyde is the most simple aldehyde (a carbon with a double bonded O and at least one bond to H). It is also known as Methanal. It was first reported in 1859 by a Russian chemist, Aleksandr Butlerov, and has been used in multiple commercial industries. In the chemistry business, formaldehyde is used as a building block for larger substances (known as a precursor). In the textiles industry, it is used to finish clothes and make them crease resistant.

Formaldehyde cross-links amino groups, making them resistant to oxidation and breakdown by microbes. This makes it a fantastic preservation agent, and has been historically used in embalming of biological compounds.

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Unfortunately, this cross-linking of amino acids is very dangerous to living organisms, and has described by the US National Toxicology Program to be "known to be a human carcinogen".[14][15][16]

Formaldehyde is produced by the following enzymatic reaction of Methanol:

2 CH3OH + O2 → 2 CH2O + 2 H2O

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Our livers will metabolize Methanol into Formaldehyde, which then becomes Formic Acid. Formic acid causes a ton of problems with mitochondria, and formic acid build-up is associated with blindness. When people accidentally ingest Methanol, they may experience symptoms such as blindness. During US prohibition, many black market Ethanol dealers (Ethanol is the alcohol in wine/beer/liquor) would spike their product with cheap Methanol. This caused lots of health problems for people trying to get their alcohol fix illegally, and was a contributing factor to the cessation of prohibition.

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Formaldehyde is also formed in trace amounts from the combustion of Methane, so try not to huff the bunsen burner fumes or you might experience mild symptoms!

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