Health groups worry formaldehyde study subject to politics

Public health groups are concerned about political pressure on U.S. EPA's efforts to label formaldehyde as a carcinogen, a designation fought fiercely by the chemical industry.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has become the latest lawmaker on Capitol Hill to block the agency's efforts to update its assessment of the chemical, which has been linked in studies to increased risks of leukemia and other cancers. Vitter placed a hold last year on the confirmation of Paul Anastas, President Obama's choice to lead EPA's Office of Research and Development, saying he would not release the hold until the agency agreed to submit formaldehyde for review by the National Academy of Sciences (E&E Daily, Sept. 23).

"This gives the appearance of another congressman being more interested in industry than the health of the public," said Peter Infante, a former director of the Office of Carcinogen Identification and Classification at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "The public should not think that because a government document is undergoing NAS review, that that review is going to be competent."

"Delay means money. The longer they can delay labeling something a known carcinogen, the more money they can make," added James Huff, associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National Institute for Environmental Health.

The senator received about $40,000 last election cycle from companies, trade groups and lobbyists linked to formaldehyde, according to an analysis of campaign finance records by ProPublica. Industry groups are concerned about expensive new regulations and pollution controls for the manufacturing of products ranging from plywood to carpet.

Vitter's spokesman, Joel DiGrado, told the media that "because of the FEMA trailer debacle, we need to get absolutely reliable information to the public about formaldehyde risk as soon as possible" (Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica, April 15). -- GN

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