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There are several data available on acute aquatic toxicity of formaldehyde for a variety of freshwater algae, microorganisms, invertebrates and fish. Results of acute tests do not indicate significant differences between trophic levels as well as between marine and freshwater organisms. The most sensitive results from studies covering different throphic levels are:


LC50 (96h) Morone saxatilis 6.18 mg/L (Reardon, 1990);
LC50 (6d) embryos of Danio rerio 6.9 mg/L (Meinelt et al., 2005);

NOEC (28d) Oryzias latipes ≥ 48 mg/L (Johnsson et al., 1993)

Aquatic invertebrates:

EC50 (48h) Daphnia pulex 5.8 mg/L (Tisler & Zagorc-Koncan, 1997);
NOEC (21 d) Daphnia magna > 6.4 mg/L (SGS, 2008)


EC50 (72h) Desmodesmus subspicatus 4.89 mg/L (Eisentraeger et al.,2003);

no NOEC given in study


Formaldehyde is used as a disinfectant to kill viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Studies on the toxicity of formaldehyde towards microorganisms in sewage treatment plants demonstrated that this substance was harmful to activated sludge EC50 (3h) 19 mg/L (Klecka et al., 1985). This result is supported by studies on single species.

Available studies reflecting chronic conditions or prolonged exposure indicate that formaldehyde is of low chronic toxicity for aquatic organisms.

A NOEC of > 6.4 mg/L was derived in a Daphnia magna reproduction study conducted according to OECD Guideline 211.

A study on the effects of formaldehyde to embryos-larval stages of Danio rerio exposed to five concentrations of formaldehyde is available, investigating the effects of water chemistry to hatching success and survival (Meinelt et al. 2005). Although this study is not in accordance with current guidelines (e.g. exposure duration 144 hours), typical endpoints of chronic fish tests are met (e.hatching).

The study showed that toxicity of formaldehyde is influenced by water chemistry (especially the concentration of natural organic matter). Under the experimental conditions applied, the lowest LC50 was 6.9 mg/L.

Furthermore, a juvenile growth test similar to OECD 215 using Oryzias latipes as test organism was conducted (Johnson et al., 1993). Formaldehyde did not cause any target organ pathologies even in the highest exposure concentration (48 mg/L), when tested over a period of 28d. There were also no significant growth or survival effects at this concentration.