Bookworms slowly poisoned by their home library in eastern China

Voracious readers developed symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning last year – and tests showed it was coming from their tens of thousands of books

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 12:25pm

A couple in eastern China whose apartment was packed with tens of thousands of books discovered that their home library was slowly poisoning them, according to a television news report.

The couple and their child, who live in Taizhou, Jiangsu province, developed symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning at the end of last year, Jiangsu Television reports.

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The adults suffered from constant coughing, while their child had rhinitis. They spent about 8,000 yuan (HK$9,185) on medical treatment but nothing worked – and doctors weren’t sure what was causing their illness, the report said.

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But after doing some research, the woman realised that the air in their home could be to blame. At her request, the municipal authorities tested the air quality in their apartment and found excessive levels of formaldehyde in every room. In some places, the concentration of formaldehyde was dangerously high.

Anything over 0.08 milligrams of formaldehyde per square metre, according to China’s national standards, is considered unhealthy. High levels of the colourless, strong-smelling gas – which is found in many products from chipboard to carpets, clothing, household items and even beer – can damage the respiratory and immune systems.

In the couple’s bedroom, the concentration was 0.10 milligrams per square metre – but their bookshelves had the highest level of 0.26 milligrams per square metre and was pinpointed as the main source of formaldehyde pollution.

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Formaldehyde is present in the printing inks used in books, magazines and newspapers.

The pair are both voracious readers and said they bought books online three to four times a month, according to the report. There were piles of books in every room of their flat and the husband told the broadcaster that they had accumulated tens of thousands of them.

Doctors told the couple to confine their collection to one room and improve ventilation in their home, while experts suggested they get rid of some of the books.

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