The truth about formaldehyde

Recent media stories have claimed a link between formaldehyde exposure and leukemia. The truth is more than 30 peer-reviewed studies since 2010 show that formaldehyde does not cause leukemia. These irresponsible and unbalanced news reports are simply another example of a widely criticized program within EPA putting politics ahead of science.

The stories base this alleged leukemia link on comments from unnamed EPA bureaucrats about an unfinished draft assessment being conducted by the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. EPA’s processes require extensive internal review of chemical assessments to ensure the Agency has the science right. The unauthorized and inappropriate decision to leak documents associated with the assessment demonstrates a complete disregard for their accuracy or completeness.

EPA’s IRIS program has been criticized for years for producing substandard reports. In fact, the initial draft assessment of formaldehyde released in 2010 was widely criticized by the scientific community, including the National Academy of Sciences, for its lack of transparent and consistent scientific standards. Moreover, it did not adequately assess alternate scientific viewpoints about potential risk, nor did it rely on the best available data.

The sensationalizing of the disclosure of the assessment at this stage places politics and conspiracy ahead of science and truth. Consumers are not getting the full story and it is critical people understand the facts about formaldehyde.

FACT: formaldehyde is naturally formed in the human body and exhaled in every breath. The IRIS program would have you believe that the normal amount of formaldehyde humans produce is dangerous and can cause cancer, despite the scientific evidence refuting that claim. Accepting the leaked information as fact would mean human breath poses an unacceptable risk of cancer.

FACT: safe levels of formaldehyde exposure have been recognized and implemented by international scientific organizations. Whether it’s used in a glue for the production of plywood for home construction or to make plastic for fuel system components for cars or door and window insulation for modern airliners, products made with formaldehyde provide many benefits for consumers in the form of extended use, consistent quality and improved performance and safety.

FACT: there are decades of scientific data that support a safe level of formaldehyde exposure. According to these publicly available peer-reviewed scientific articles, the low environmental levels of formaldehyde people may be exposed to are highly unlikely to cause negative health effects. Our confidence in this important chemical goes far beyond its critical role in the production of items consumers use every day.

The ongoing leaks to media outlets are yet another example of the ongoing problems within the IRIS program. These leaks further undermine the credibility of the draft assessment and unnecessarily threatens the many safe, longstanding and beneficial uses of this indispensable product. Scare tactics and irresponsible reporting mislead policymakers and consumers about formaldehyde, potentially resulting in unwarranted fears.

IRIS has a troubling history in its approach to performing scientific assessments, and releasing draft findings before they could be fully vetted by the EPA is further evidence of an ongoing problem. When it comes to critically important issues like public health, we should rely only on sound, peer-reviewed science instead of scare tactics. The public has the right to hear the truth.

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