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A (small) step forward on regulating formaldehyde

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services has added formaldehyde to its list of known carcinogens. Formaldehyde, which is found in plastics and often used in plywood, particle board, mortuaries and hair salons, has been linked to leukemia and other cancers.

The EPA has been trying to update its own chemical risk assessment for formaldehyde since 1998, but has been stalled repeatedly by the chemical industry.  According to the investigative journalists at Pro Publica:

EPA assessments are the country’s gold standard for how dangerous a chemical is. The formaldehyde assessment would undoubtedly influence the stringency of a rule the EPA is developing on how much of the chemical can safely be released from construction materials that contain it.

In 2009, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., maneuvered successfully to delay the assessment by putting a hold on the nomination of a key EPA appointee and forcing the agency to send its draft to the National Academy of Sciences for review.

Vitter has received substantial campaign contributions from the nation’s largest formaldehyde manufacturers and users. After the EPA agreed to send its assessment to the NAS, a top industry lobbyist, Charles Grizzle, threw Vitter a fundraising party, requesting donations of $1,000 a plate.

The hope is that the HHS ruling will encourage the EPA to finally take action.

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