In 2015, a mysterious report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine claiming that the vapor from electronic cigarettes is filled with formaldehyde. The paper was quickly rebuked by several world-class scientists including Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health. Experts in scientific protocols overwhelmingly agreed that the co-authors of the bogus report either intentionally or accidentally cranked up the heating temperatures of the vaping technology used in the experiment to alarmingly unrealistic levels, which resulted in the tainted formaldehyde statistics.
However, even though numerous highly-regarded scientists publicly denounced the study while simultaneously calling for the New England Journal to remove or retract the publication from its website, news of the formaldehyde report went viral on social media. The public perception of vaping as a safe tobacco harm reduction tool took a big hit. Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a study of it own that officially debunks the formaldehyde myth once and for all.
Overview of the CDC air sampling study
In coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), public health officials conducted a series of air sampling tests at the request of a vape shop owner. The study was conducted in January of 2016, and the findings are published in a report entitled Evaluation of Chemical Exposures at a Vape Shop, which is readily available on the CDC website.
- Air sampling tests measured multiple “vaping-related chemicals,” including:
- Propylene glycol
- Multiple Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs)
- In addition to testing the air quality of the vape shop, the research team also checked the storage and safety protocols being implemented by vape shop staff.
- Swipe samples were also collected from “commonly touched surfaces” within the shop.
- Swipe samples of individual employees were also collected on two separate occasions and from two separate locations within the shop.
- The vape shop was approximately 1000 SF, and at any given time, as many as 10 employees were present.
The CDC team discovered that the concentrations of all vaping-related chemicals fell below the standards of safety as defined by the NIOSH. Furthermore, the levels of formaldehyde were no more than those commonly associated with everyday air.
“Area sampling results showed that background formaldehyde concentrations were similar to the personal sampling results. Low concentrations of formaldehyde exist in many indoor environments because of off gassing from furnishings, clothing, and other materials.”
However, the vape shop was not without its fair share of faulty operational practices. The research team also noted improper storage of liquid nicotine inside a refrigerator that also contained employee food items. Several vape shop employees were also caught handling vaping-related chemicals without protective gloves, even though gloves were clearly and readily available. Other issues involved improper ventilation systems and the lack of regular use of disposable funnels for preventing backsplash from liquid nicotine solutions during the mixing of in-house e-liquid recipes.