EPA to release assessment of toxic formaldehyde, rejects industry’s tired delay tactics

Maria Doa, Ph.D., Senior Director, Chemicals Policy 

The EPA will release a draft Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of formaldehyde, a key scientific review that identifies and characterizes the hazards from chronic exposure to this known carcinogen. The draft assessment, due to be published tomorrow, will be reviewed by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (National Academies).

We welcome the EPA’s decision to issue its formaldehyde assessment. Release of the assessment is a win for scientific integrity that follows years of pressure from industry groups and efforts during the previous administration to suppress the assessment. 

The EPA’s IRIS program is the gold standard for identifying and characterizing the hazards that result from exposure to chemicals. Its findings are essential to informing health-based standards that protect frontline communities, workers, children, consumers and more.  

Formaldehyde has long been known as a human carcinogen, associated with leukemia and cancer of the throat. Exposure to formaldehyde can come from many sources, including from certain building materials, insulation, personal care products, and in the manufacture of other chemicals. It is vital that the IRIS assessment of formaldehyde be completed so it can be used across EPA’s programs, including to inform the agency’s risk evaluation of formaldehyde under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 

Despite the known dangers of formaldehyde, industry groups like the American Chemistry Council (ACC) have tried for years to stifle and discredit the IRIS program and its assessment of formaldehyde. And they are up to their old tricks again. 

Once again, ACC is playing the same old broken record and attacking the scientific process to preserve its bottom line. Before even seeing the draft assessment, the chemical industry group tried to undermine the review by spinning the EPA’s decision to restore the formaldehyde assessment as an ominous tale of political interference, pointing to “evidence” that clearly does not support their spurious accusations.  

The real story here is ACC’s own successful efforts to persuade conflicted political appointees under the Trump administration to suppress the formaldehyde assessment for years. In this instance, not only are they attacking the draft assessment, but they are trying to dictate how the National Academies should conduct its peer review and what it should consider. It is absurd that ACC – an organization with a clear financial interest in the outcome – is attempting to appoint itself as the arbitrator of the scientific process.   

The EPA’s action shows that such tactics to undermine the scientific process at the expense of public health will fall on deaf ears.  We applaud the Biden administration and EPA Administrator Regan for taking this step to restore scientific integrity. 

We look forward to the robust peer review process from the National Academies and will be submitting comments after our own review of the assessment. 

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