EPA hedges on cancer determination for formaldehyde

By Ellie Borst | 03/15/2024 01:30 PM EDT

The draft evaluation says the chemical poses an “unreasonable risk” to humans, a move that could lead to a ban or restrictions on uses.

In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 15, 2011, Carl Garmon, right, and his wife Armelia shop for flooring at a Home Depot store in North Little Rock, Ark. Home Depot Inc.'s second-quarter net income rose 14 percent as shoppers picked up lawn and garden products and made storm-related repairs during the summer, company said Monday. It also raised its earnings guidance. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Carl Garmon (right) and his wife Armelia shop for flooring on Aug. 15, 2011, at a Home Depot store in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Formaldehyde is used in pressed wood and laminate flooring. Danny Johnston/AP

EPA found breathing in formaldehyde does threaten human health but is “less certain” it causes cancer, a new chapter in the decades-old debate on cancer risks tied to the widely used chemical.

The draft risk evaluation, published Friday, says the chemical overall poses an “unreasonable risk” to humans — a determination that, if finalized, greenlights regulators to ban or impose restrictions on uses of formaldehyde deemed too risky.

But the risks are far more understated in the draft evaluation than a 2022 toxicological review from EPA’s gold-standard Integrated Risk Information System, which tied formaldehyde to the agency’s strongest cancer classification.


The chemical industry sued the agency and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine last year calling it an “unbalanced” review, but the National Acadamies ultimately backed its work.