U.S. adds formaldehyde to list of carcinogens

WASHINGTON Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:01am EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The government on Friday added formaldehyde, a substance found in plastics and other commonly used products, to a list of known carcinogens and warned that the chemical styrene might cause cancer.

In a report prepared for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), scientists warned that people with higher exposure to formaldehyde were more at risk for nasopharyngeal cancer, myeloid leukemia and other cancers.

"There is now sufficient evidence from studies in humans to show that individuals with higher measures of exposure to formaldehyde are at increased risk for certain types of rare cancers ...," the Report on Carcinogens said.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical widely used to make resins for household items, such as composite wood products, paper product coatings, plastics, synthetic fibers, and textile finishes.

It is also commonly used as a preservative in medical laboratories, mortuaries, and some consumer products, including hair straightening products.

The report, produced by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), also added styrene to the list of substances that were reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.

Styrene is a synthetic chemical used in the manufacture of products such as rubber, plastic, insulation, fiberglass, pipes, automobile parts, food containers, and carpet backing.

The greatest exposure to styrene in the general population is through cigarette smoking, the report said.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group, lashed out at the report, saying it was concerned that politics may have hijacked the scientific process.

"Today's report by HHS made unfounded classifications of both formaldehyde and styrene and will unnecessarily alarm consumers," Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the ACC, said in a statement.

Jennifer Sass of the National Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental group, praised the government for publishing the report in the face of what she described as pressure by chemical companies to prevent its release.

"The chemical industry fought the truth, the science, and the public -- but, in the end our government experts came through for us, giving the public accurate information about the health risks from chemicals that are commonly found in our homes, schools, and workplaces," Sass wrote in a blog.

The report also listed aristolochic acids, found in some plants, as a known carcinogen and added the fungicide captafol, some inhalable glass wool fibers, cobalt-tungsten carbide, riddelliine and o-Nitrotoluene to the list of substances reasonably anticipated to be carcinogens.

It, however, said listing the substances did not in itself mean they would cause cancer. Amount and duration of exposure, and susceptibility to a substance were among the many factors that affected whether a person developed cancer, it said.

The report is available at ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/roc12

(Writing by Paul Simao, Americas Desk; + 1 202-898-8457)

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Comments (6)
congressive wrote:
So aspartame, which immediately breaks down into methanol and then formaldehyde in the human body, is carcinogenic after all. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t formaldehyde when it crossed your lips, it becomes formaldehyde in your body. As he was the CEO of G.D. Searle who controversially got aspartame approved in the early 1980′s, Donald Rumsfeld’s carcinogen is finally public knowledge. I hope he invested his $12 million bonus in cancer research.

Jun 11, 2011 5:24am EDT  --  Report as abuse
interesting1 wrote:
Ironic, since every doctor in the US has spent months working in formaldehyde during gross anatomy. By the end of the course the smell was embedded in your hands.

Jun 11, 2011 10:06am EDT  --  Report as abuse
icare_dou wrote:
Formaldehyde is also found in fiberglass insulation and laminate flooring. California’s Air Resources Board released a study on indoor air quality and found that 98% of the home tested exceeded California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessments recommendation based on cancer risks. Energy efficient and green homes tend to be worse because they decrease the natural ventilation rate to save energy. Testing is the only way to know. Fortunately testing is an easy do-it-yourself task using passive formaldehyde badges. This was the method used by the Sierra Club to discover the FEMA trailer issue. These are available via the Internet for as little as $39 including the lab analysis. Remember the air inside your home is almost always more polluted than the outside air, so open your windows frequently.

Jun 11, 2011 10:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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