EPA Can’t Find Study Linking Formaldehyde to Leukemia

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For Immediate Release:  Friday, September 25, 2020
Contact:  Kirsten Stade

EPA Can’t Find Study Linking Formaldehyde to Leukemia

Agency Claims Decade-Long Formaldehyde Assessment Was Never Finished

Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed its position on a long-awaited assessment of the health effects of formaldehyde. After representing for more than two years that it had a fully drafted assessment, EPA now argues no such draft exists, in response to a lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) seeking the document under the Freedom of Information Act.

Formaldehyde is one of the most widely used industrial chemicals, in products such as wood composites, paints, and preservatives. The assessment is supposed to determine whether the formaldehyde exposure levels experienced by millions of workers and consumers is harmful.  Formaldehyde inhalation is associated with lymphohematopoietic cancers, such as leukemia.

EPA’s last completed health assessment for formaldehyde was in 1990. It had released a draft of a new assessment in 2010 but has yet to finalize it. In January 2018, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate that it was his “understanding” that the EPA had finished its study of the human health effects of formaldehyde.

PEER had requested the last version of the draft assessment in a lawsuit it filed in 2018.  This month, for the first time, EPA contends that such a draft does not exist.

“EPA’s current position is akin to ‘the dog ate my homework,’” remarked PEER Staff Counsel Kevin Bell, pointing out that EPA was repeatedly asked point blank, under oath, whether the assessment was complete. “They have never said that it was incomplete but now call us crazy for suggesting to the court it existed. You never really understand gaslighting until it’s done to you.”

PEER’s brief recounts several recent instances when EPA has been confronted over its draft formaldehyde assessment and said nothing, including:

  • an April 3, 2019 letter sent by Chairwomen Eddie Bernice Johnson and Mikie Sherrill stating that the formaldehyde assessment “has been ready for public comment since at least the end of 2017” and asking for further information; and
  • a July 18, 2019 letter from Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson outlining again the evidence that the formaldehyde draft had been “finalized” and lamenting “the mysterious delay of the long-completed formaldehyde report.”

“EPA appears desperate to keep its new health assessment of formaldehyde out of the public’s eye,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s main lobby, has pressed Trump officials to block its release. “It is now up to a federal judge to decide whether EPA’s latest posture is woven out of whole cloth.”


See EPA’s Denial

Read the PEER rebuttal

Look at the PEER suit 

Examine March 2019 Government Accountability Office report on EPA chemical assessments   

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