In a Win for Public Health, EPA Restores Assessment of Toxic Formaldehyde

Action on chemical that causes cancer signals a renewed commitment to scientific integrity

March 11, 2021
Sam Lovell, (202) 572-3544

Reports indicate that the Environmental Protection Agency will be moving forward the long-delayed assessment of formaldehyde by the agency’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). IRIS chemical assessments are the gold standard in identifying and characterizing chemical hazards resulting from chronic exposure. While a draft of the assessment was ready years ago for review, political appointees under the Trump administration first suppressed and then tried to kill off the study, as part of a longstanding effort by the chemical industry to block findings about the dangers of formaldehyde. 

“We welcome the news that the IRIS formaldehyde assessment will again move forward after languishing for years under the previous administration. By taking this step, it is clear that the Biden EPA is wasting no time in restoring scientific integrity at the agency and enabling the IRIS program to do its job, which is critical to protect public health from dangerous chemicals,” said Dr. Jennifer McPartland, Senior Health Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.

Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen associated with nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia. There are many sources of the chemical, including certain building materials, insulation and personal care products, and it is also used to make other chemicals. For most Americans, the main pathway of formaldehyde exposure is through inhaling the chemical. 

Peer review of the assessment by the National Academies will be a key step in completing the assessment. The National Academies has been at the ready since 2017 when EPA contracted with them to conduct the review.

Formaldehyde is among the chemicals currently undergoing risk evaluation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). It is vital that EPA promptly finalize the IRIS formaldehyde assessment and use it to inform the TSCA risk evaluation. 

For additional background on the assessment and its history, see:

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