EPA Suppresses a Study on Formaldehyde’s Link to Cancer
Formaldehyde, a colorless gas found in everyday products from hair straighteners to home cleaning products to furniture, has long been recognized as a toxic chemical: The National Toxicology Program has labeled it a “known human carcinogen,” while the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer says it’s “carcinogenic to humans.” While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used softer language around formaldehyde, calling it a “probable human carcinogen,” the news recently that the EPA is suppressing a report detailing the cancer risks associated with the chemical has caused a wave of concern and outrage.
The risk assessment report, from the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), warns that when ingested, whether from breathing in emissions from cars or furniture or from absorbing it from skincare and haircare products, long-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause nose and throat cancers, and leukemia. Being exposed to formaldehyde levels greater than 0.1 ppm can, in the short term, cause coughing, nausea and irritated skin, watering eyes, and burning nose and throat, according to the National Cancer Institute. If released, the report could strengthen the warning surrounding the chemical, lead to stricter regulations by the EPA—or enable cancer patients to file class action lawsuits against the chemical industry.
“They’re stonewalling every step of the way,” a current EPA official told Politico.
In a statement, EPA spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell denied the report is being withheld, saying, “EPA continues to discuss this assessment with our agency program partners and have no further updates to provide at this time… Assessments of this type are often the result of needs for particular rulemakings and undergo an extensive intra-agency and interagency process.”
But public health advocates remain alarmed that the EPA under the current administration is kowtowing to the very industries it is tasked with regulating. EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler, who recently succeeded embattled former Chief Scott Pruitt, has a history of lobbying for coal and chemical companies, including formaldehyde manufacturer Celanese Corp; Nancy Beck, the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, joined the EPA from the American Chemistry Council, the lobby that includes chemical giants DuPont, Monsanto, Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil and others.
The future of the report on formaldehyde remains unclear; under Wheeler, the EPA is expected to continue to implement the Trump administration’s agenda to deregulate the chemical industry.
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