Reviewers pan EPA's formaldehyde health assessment
Large chamber used to test formaldehyde in
furniture by the Air Quality Sciences.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to reassess its draft assessment of formaldehyde health risks, according to a new report from the National Research Council (NRC).

While the NRC report concurs with many of EPA's conclusions, it observes that the EPA's draft assessment has not adequately supported its findings that formaldehyde potentially causes cancers of the respiratory tract, leukemia and other health problems. In addition, the report says EPA needs to revise its assessment because it fails to consider additional studies to derive noncancer reference concentrations (RfCs), which are estimates of lifetime concentrations to which someone could be exposed without appreciable risk of particular adverse health effects.

The review committee was organized by the National Academny of Sciences to thorougly analyze the EPA's draft on formaldehyde health assessments completed last June. The Composite Panel Association is among wood industry groups that has given input throughout the process.

Formaldehyde is a fundamental building block of nature and found in all organic materials, including wood. It is also a key chemical used in the manufacture of composite wood products, including particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF).

The NRC report was not totally in conflict with the EPA's assessment. The review committee agreed with EPA's assessment that formaldehyde can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat; lesions in the respiratory tract; and genetic mutations at high concentrations. Furthermore, the report finds that the evidence is sufficient for EPA to conclude that formaldehyde exposures are a cause of cancers of the nose, nasal cavity and upper throat.

Among other things, the NRC did not agree with the EPA's draft assessment concerning formaldehyde's potential to cause leukemia and lymphoma. "Although EPA presented an exhaustive description of studies and speculated extensively on how formaldehyde reacts in the body, the determinations of causality are not supported in the assessment," the report stated. "EPA should revisit its arguments and include detailed descriptions of the criteria that were used to weigh evidence and assess causality."

The NRC reviewers also questioned whether EPA delved deep enough to find a potential connection with formaldehyde and certain respiratory tract cancers and asthma.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.

Posted by Rich Christianson

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