EWG: EPA’s Deceptive Action Will Keep Cancer-Causing Formaldehyde Legal for Years

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency announced a confusing and deceptive decision today about the notorious carcinogen formaldehyde: Under the guise of taking action, the decision likely will have the effect of delaying further restrictions on its use, said EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh.

Formaldehyde, a well-established human carcinogen, is used in laminate flooring, carpeting, paints and varnishes. The EPA said today it is placing formaldehyde on the priority list for review under the revamped Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA. But Benesh explained that maneuver probably brings to a halt a long-awaited risk assessment of formaldehyde’s carcinogenicity under the EPA’s Integrated Risk and Management System, or IRIS.

“This deceptive decision is just the latest maneuver in a troubling effort by the Trump administration and the chemical industry to avoid taking steps to protect the public from formaldehyde,” said Benesh. “It will almost certainly close the door on the IRIS risk assessment that’s been suppressed by EPA political appointees and kick any action on banning formaldehyde down the road for at least another five years.”

According to reports by Politico, the IRIS assessment of formaldehyde was substantially completed at the end of the Obama administration but has been stonewalled by EPA officials appointed by President Trump. Citing current and former EPA officials, Politico said the IRIS report “warns that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor in the course of daily life to put them at risk of developing leukemia.”

But today’s decision means the IRIS risk assessment may not be fully completed and made public, Benesh said.  

Reevaluating formaldehyde under TSCA would delay action on formaldehyde until the TSCA process is complete. It would also give the Trump EPA an opportunity to revisit the science behind the IRIS assessment and weaken its finding — a strategy employed last year to weaken proposed regulations on another notorious carcinogen, TCE

In January 2018, EWG and American Oversight submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA asking for both the IRIS assessment for formaldehyde along with all communications between agency officials and industry related to the document. EWG and American Oversight have not received any information sought from the public records request.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.