Formic Acid and Formates Substance group – information sheet

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  • The Government conducted a science-based evaluation of the substances in the Formic Acid and Formates Substance Group, called a screening assessment, to address the potential for harm to Canadians and to the environment.
  • Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, (CEPA 1999), the risk posed by a substance is determined by considering both its hazardous properties (its potential to cause adverse human health or ecological effects) and the amount of exposure there is to people or the environment. A substance may be associated with hazardous effects; however, the risk to human health or to the environment may be low depending on the level of exposure.
  • Although there is some exposure of the general population and the environment to the Formic Acid and Formates Substances Group, they have a low risk of harm. Therefore, it is concluded that these substances are not harmful to human health or the environment.

About these substances

  • This screening assessment focuses on 4 substances referred to collectively as the Formic Acid and Formates Substance Group.
  • Formic acid, methyl formate, ethyl formate and sodium formate are considered priorities assessed as part of the third phase of the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP). These substances were classified as having a low ecological exposure and hazard potential using the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances Approach.
  • Formic acid is a naturally occurring substance that is found in plants. It is also produced through microbial activity in the environment, and it is produced in the atmosphere.
  • In Canada, sources of formic acid and formates are the result of industrial activities. For example, sodium formate is used in chemical synthesis and industrial water treatment. Other sources of the substances include the manufacture of certain food packaging materials, disposal down the drain and use of cleaning products containing formic acid and sodium formate.
  • Formic acid and ethyl formate are present in a limited number of pest control products. Formic acid is an active ingredient in mite treatment products for bee hives and is used for anti-rust treatment. Ethyl formate is used in agricultural products.
  • Industry data collected by the Government indicates that sodium formate is manufactured and imported into Canada, and methyl formate and ethyl formate are reported to be imported into Canada only. Formic acid is considered a commodity chemical and is expected to be in Canada in high quantities.

Exposure of Canadians and the environment

  • Canadians may be exposed to formic acid and sodium formate through the use of certain cosmetics, such as hair products and body moisturizers, and the use of cleaning products, such as fabric softeners, laundry and dishwasher detergents.
  • Exposure to formic acid and ethyl formate can occur through food from their possible use as food flavouring agents and certain food packaging materials.
  • Canadians may also be exposed to formic acid from its natural presence in plants and in the air.
  • The substances in this group were classified as having low ecological exposure potential.

Key health and ecological effects (hazard)

  • To identify effects of concern for human health, international reports of information on formic acid, methyl formate and sodium formate were reviewed.
  • The substances are not considered to be genotoxic (adversely effects genetic material) or carcinogenic (cancer-causing ability).
  • Information available from a laboratory study on a similar substance (potassium hydrogen diformate) was used to identify health effects for formic acid. Potassium hydrogen diformate was found to decrease body weight gain and cause effects on the digestive system.
  • Laboratory studies showed that exposure to formic acid by inhalation resulted in mild degeneration of the nasal skin tissue.
  • The substances were classified as having a low ecological hazard potential.

Risk assessment outcomes

  • Since these substances break down to a common metabolite, formate ion, it is expected that the effects will be similar and a read-across approach was used in the assessment to characterize hazard.
  • The ecological risks of the Formic Acid and Formates Substance Group was characterized using the Ecological Risk Classification of Organic Substances Approach. It identified the substances as having a low potential to cause ecological harm.
  • Considering the information presented, the risk to human health from the Formic Acid and Formates Substance Group is low and there is a low risk of harm to organisms and the broader integrity of the environment.
  • The Government published the Final Screening Assessment for the Formic Acid and Formates Substance Group on December 16, 2017.

Screening assessment conclusions

  • As a result of this assessment, the Government of Canada concluded that these substances are not harmful to human health at current levels of exposure.
  • The Government of Canada also concluded that these substances are not entering the environment at levels that are harmful to the environment.

Important to know

  • Formic acid and sodium formate are found in certain products available to consumers. Canadians should follow any safety warnings and directions on product labels and dispose of products responsibly.
  • Canadians who may be exposed to these substances in the workplace should consult with their employer and an occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws, and requirements under OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

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