WASHINGTON A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft assessment of the potential health effects associated with formaldehyde exposure needs substantial revision, says a new report from the National Research Council, which recommends improvements for EPA's final assessment. The report finds that EPA supports its conclusions that formaldehyde can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat; lesions in the respiratory tract; and genetic mutations at high concentrations. Furthermore, the report finds that the evidence is sufficient for EPA to conclude that formaldehyde exposures are a cause of cancers of the nose, nasal cavity, and upper throat. However, the draft assessment has not adequately supported its conclusions that formaldehyde causes other cancers of the respiratory tract, leukemia, or several other noncancer health outcomes. Also, the assessment should consider additional studies to derive noncancer reference concentrations (RfCs), which are estimates of lifetime concentrations to which someone could be exposed without appreciable risk of particular adverse health effects.
Formaldehyde is an important industrial chemical used to produce a wide array of materials, but it is also generated naturally by the human body. When inhaled, it is absorbed primarily at the site of first contact, where it is metabolized and reacts with cellular components; thus, inhaled formaldehyde remains predominantly in the tissue that lines the airways. Given the pervasive exposure of the general population to some concentration of formaldehyde, federal agencies tasked with protecting public health are concerned about the health effects. In June 2010, EPA released its draft health assessment of formaldehyde, and a Research Council committee that wrote the report reviewed the assessment and key literature to determine whether EPA's conclusions were supported. The committee did not perform its own assessment or conduct additional literature searches.'/>"/>
|Contact: Jennifer Walsh|
National Academy of Sciences