A victory for science: EPA releases study on formaldehyde the chemical industry tried to suppress


In a victory for scientific integrity, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week released a long-delayed proposed toxicological assessment of formaldehyde, a chemical widely used in building materials, cleaning products medicinal and personal care products and furnishings. His findings state what the body of scientific literature has long indicated – that breathing in small amounts of formaldehyde over time is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

This is the science that should have informed decisions about the production and use of formaldehyde for years. However, the publication of this important assessment was blocked for four to five years due to the chemical industry efforts question the scientific rigor of the EPA’s work. In addition, industry lobby groups have worked to influence the EPA, especially under the Trump administration. UCS has called the indefinite delay in administering this formaldehyde assessment project and the failure to provide adequate resources to the science office working on it, a attack on science.

Formaldehyde poses a significant risk

EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) evaluation project found that breathing in even small amounts of formaldehyde throughout a person’s lifetime is associated with an increased risk of leukemia and the development of head, neck and sinus cancer; asthma; allergies; decreased lung function; and even reproductive problems. The IRIS assessment includes a detailed explanation of its methodology and how it used a systematic review to ensure that only the highest quality studies were included in the assessment. This increased level of transparency responds directly to feedback given to IRIS on its draft formaldehyde assessment from 2010. This version represents an improvement both in terms of process and in the breadth of evidence that informs it.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, and highly volatile chemical, which means that products containing formaldehyde continue to emit the chemical while in our homes, offices, and schools. Children’s exposure to formaldehyde in these settings is of concern because they are smaller and their bodies are still developing. In 2004, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that formaldehyde is a human carcinogen, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services listing it is listed as a known human carcinogen in 2011. Without the latest IRIS assessment and designation of formaldehyde as a human carcinogen, the EPA lacked the ability to adequately regulate it under the Substances Control Act toxic.

Public and external scientific review is essential

Now that the EPA has released its draft review, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Mathematics (NASEM) will peer review it at the same time the agency accepts public comments on the ‘study. According to registration in the federal registerEPA will provide all public comments to the NASEM committee for consideration during its own review and will also accept comments at a public meeting to be scheduled by NASEM.

Peer review and public input are essential steps in the EPA process that help ensure that the best science is considered and the right methods are used to ensure an independent and rigorous outcome.

comments will be accepted until June 13.

We can’t let the formaldehyde debacle happen again

As Michal Freedhoff, deputy administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, wrote in a 2021 memorandum to staff“It’s a new day, about communication, trust, transparency and the importance of science in our regulatory decision-making process.”

There was a strong commitment to scientific integrity at EPA under the direction of EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) is currently working on a framework that agencies should follow when implementing and enforcing scientific integrity policies.

We know very well that when decision-makers compromise on science for financial or political reasons, we all lose. We need to give scientific integrity the attention it deserves so that we can create a strong infrastructure that persists despite changes in presidential administrations.

We urge Congress to pass the Scientific Integrity Act so we never have another formaldehyde (or silica or PFBS or TCE …the list of chemicals goes on…) debacle to be corrected and so the public can be confident that the agencies charged with using the best available scientific evidence to protect them are actually doing so.

By Genna Reed, Senior Analyst, Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientist

Originally posted by Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation.

Image selected by Ben Moulins – own work, public domain


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