For Immediate Release: Sep 25, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Suit for Suppressed EPA Formaldehyde Assessment
Furious Industry Lobbying Has Kept Significant Public Health Report Under Wraps
Washington, DC — A scientific assessment of whether Americans routinely inhale unhealthy amounts of formaldehyde needs to see the light of day, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The American Chemistry Council, the industry’s main lobby, has pressed Trump officials to block this new assessment by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists, arguing “premature release” would cause “irreparable harm” to companies using the chemical.
Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical which is highly concentrated for a wide variety of industrial uses, including wood composites, glues, paints, primers, and preservatives. Concentrated formaldehyde is toxic to humans and inhalation is associated with lymphohematopoietic cancers, such as leukemia. EPA’s last completed health assessment for formaldehyde was in 1990.
The current effort to update EPA’s understanding of formaldehyde’s toxicity has traveled a tortured path, with a draft released in 2010, then reviewed by the National Academies of Science, and a re-review begun in 2014. This new draft assessment was finished in 2017, as confirmed by then-Administrator Scott Pruitt in January 2018 congressional testimony. This update was compiled for public review through EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System. IRIS assessments are used by EPA for rulemaking and enforcement purposes and are a significant resource for other federal, state, and international health authorities.
The PEER lawsuit stems from its Freedom of Information Act request seeking the draft health assessment for formaldehyde, EPA’s communications with industry groups about it, and records explaining why the assessment’s release has been repeatedly delayed. EPA has yet to produce any of this material.
“So far, EPA has shared this important, tax-supported science with industry but not the public,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kevin Bell, pointing out that EPA has no legal basis for withholding reports that it has already disclosed to outside parties. “EPA’s current leadership often talks the talk about scientific transparency, but we have yet to see them walking.”
Ironically, top EPA officials seem more than aware of the dangers of formaldehyde. As a part of his now infamous office renovations, Administrator Pruitt purchased a $2,984 Captain’s Desk which carried a warning label about the presence of formaldehyde in the wood. When the desk was delivered, his staff had it stored in an EPA warehouse for a week to air it out.
“Scott Pruitt should not be the only person who EPA protects from the dangers of formaldehyde off-gassing,” added Bell, noting that Nancy Beck, who heads EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is a former lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council. “We believe the documents this lawsuit seeks will evidence the extent to which industry keeps EPA in regulatory captivity to the detriment of public health. EPA should not act as if it is a member of the American Chemistry Council.”