EDF Health

Twice in 2 weeks: National Academy of Sciences again strongly affirms federal government’s science, agrees formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist. 

Just last week I blogged that a panel of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) had fully backed the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) listing of styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Today a separate NAS panel strongly endorsed NTP’s listing of formaldehyde as a “known human carcinogen” in its 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC).  As with styrene, this second NAS panel both peer-reviewed the RoC listing and conducted its own independent review of the formaldehyde literature – and in both cases found strong evidence to support NTP’s listing.  See the NAS press release here, which links to the full report.  Read More »

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The chemical industry says formaldehyde and styrene don’t cause cancer. Only one of 52 scientists agree.

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) held a joint meeting of its two panels that are charged with reviewing the listings of formaldehyde and styrene as carcinogens in the 12th Report on Carcinogens, which was released in June 2011.

The 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC) is the latest edition of a Congressionally mandated report developed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP).  It upgraded formaldehyde to the status of “known to be a human carcinogen,” and for the first time listed styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”  That put the chemical industry into a real tizzy, what with the threat these listings pose to its profits from the huge volumes of these cash cows sold each year, not to mention the huge potential liability it faces.

Never one to go down lightly, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has launched an all-out assault on the NTP and the RoC.  It is waging battle not only with the executive branch, but also in the courts and in Congress.  In late 2011, it managed to get its allies in Congress to slip into the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, without any debate, a rider that mandated the NAS reviews of the formaldehyde and styrene listings in the 12th RoC that are now underway.

ACC also pushed legislation in the last Congress to shut down all funding for the RoC until the reviews are completed; failing on that front, earlier this month it demanded that NTP cease all work on the next (13th) edition of the RoC.  (For more background, see previous blog posts by EDF and NRDC.)

Lost in all this kerfluffle, however, are these salient facts:

  • The formaldehyde and styrene listings are the outcome of one of the most extensive scientific assessment processes on the planet, entailing reviews by four separate groups of expert scientists for each chemical.
  • ACC as well as the public had at least three separate formal opportunities for providing input to these expert bodies.
  • Of a total of 52 votes cast by these scientific panels on the NTP’s recommended listings, 51 of those votes supported the recommendations and only one opposed them. Read More »
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No way to treat our kids: Formaldehyde, flame retardants and other toxics exceed safe levels in air and dust in day care centers

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

A study conducted by the State of California [Update 10-26-12:  The study was funded by the California Air Resources Board and conducted by Asa Bradman and colleagues at the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at UC Berkeley] – described as “the first comprehensive study in child care centers to measure a broad spectrum of pollutants including many volatile organic chemicals, particles, and pesticides, and emerging pollutants such as flame retardants, phthalates and perfluorinated compounds” – has routinely detected dozens of these toxic contaminants in the air or floor dust present in such facilities. 

Some of the key findings include the following:

  • “Formaldehyde levels in 87% of the facilities exceeded the California acute and chronic reference exposure guideline levels for non-cancer health effects such as respiratory and sensory irritation (e.g. eyes, nose, throat, and lungs).”
  • “In most facilities, levels of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, chloroform, benzene, or ethylbenzene exceeded child-specific Safe Harbor Levels computed by the report authors based on Proposition 65 guidelines for carcinogens.”  [These are levels calculated to result in a cancer risk of at least 1 per 100,000 people.]
  • “Phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, and lead were also frequently detected in dust and/or air.”
  • “Child dose estimates from ingestion of dust for two brominated flame retardants (BDE-47 and -99) exceeded the non-cancer U.S. EPA reference health dose (RfD) in 10.3% of facilities for children < 1 year old.”
  • “Two VOCs commonly found in cleaners and personal care products, d-limonene and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, had the highest concentrations compared to other chemical groups.”

The presumed sources of most if not all of these chemicals are everyday materials and products used to construct, furnish or clean these facilities.  Formaldehyde, for example, is used in hundreds of materials and products, including furniture, wood products, carpeting, paints, and household cleaning products.  California took action in 2007 to limit is use in pressed wood products, and Congress passed a law in 2010 to do the same.  (Unfortunately, the proposed regulations needed to implement the federal law – which Congress mandated be in place by January 1, 2013 – are stuck in regulatory review limbo at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB):  The proposed regulations were sent by EPA to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) more than 170 days ago, on May 5 of this year, but remain under “pending review” by OIRA despite the requirement for OIRA to complete its reviews within 90 days.)

The larger problem exposed by the California study demands, of course, a far more comprehensive solution – TSCA reform.

 

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ACC resorts to smear tactics to defend its cash cows, formaldehyde and styrene

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

An increasingly common tactic in modern bare-knuckle politics is to divert attention away from your own weakness or vulnerability by loudly – and falsely – accusing your opponent of having that very defect you possess but won’t admit to.

That Rovian tactic was on display last week, with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) as the accuser, and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) as its “opponent.”  Mind you, NTP is the nation’s leading authoritative body on cancer-causing chemicals.

The precipitating event?  NTP’s long-overdue release of its 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC).  Among other additions NTP made since its last report was published way back in 2005, it had the audacity – according to ACC – to:

  • upgrade its classification of formaldehyde to “Known to be a human carcinogen,” from its earlier classification (dating back to 1981) as “Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” and
  • for the first time include styrene on its list of chemicals linked to cancer, classifying it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

The accusation hurled at NTP was this gem from ACC President and CEO, Cal Dooley:

“We are extremely concerned that politics may have hijacked the scientific process and believe this report by HHS is an egregious contradiction to what the President said early in his administration, ‘…That science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my administration…’.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black (per the “second, subtler interpretation” of that phrase).

Read More »

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Katrina chronicles meet the BP oil disaster: Formaldehyde-laced trailers are back in the Gulf

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

In another truly bizarre collision between recent Gulf coast disasters (on top of Hurricane Alex), Ian Urbina of the New York Times reports on the front page today that those toxic trailers – sold at auction by FEMA back in March – have been reincarnated once again, this time as housing for Gulf cleanup workers.

I had blogged about the sale at the time, questioning the viability of FEMA’s assurance that “wholesale buyers from the auction must sign contracts attesting that trailers will not be used, sold or advertised as housing, and that trailers will carry a sticker saying, ‘Not to be used for housing’.”  In that post, I had cynically asked:  “Think that’s likely to be enough?”

With good reason, it turns out.  Read More »

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The Katrina chronicles: Formaldehyde-laced trailers set to claim another set of victims

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

The Washington Post ran a front-page article Saturday, written by Spencer Hsu, which reported the auction sale by FEMA of most of the 120,000 notorious formaldehyde-tainted trailers it had purchased five years ago to house the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The article cites FEMA as saying that “wholesale buyers from the auction must sign contracts attesting that trailers will not be used, sold or advertised as housing, and that trailers will carry a sticker saying, ‘Not to be used for housing’.”

Think that’s likely to be enough?  Read More »

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