US to review carcinogen status of formaldehyde

31 August 2009 22:50  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US officials said on Monday that they would again consider whether formaldehyde should be reclassified as a “known human carcinogen”, an action that industry sources said would have broad international consequences.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said it would convene an expert panel on 2-4 November to review the chemical's status.

In advance of that meeting, the department will issue its draft opinion on formaldehyde’s status as a health risk. That analysis, known as the draft background document, will be available later this week.

The decision on whether to list formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen would be made as early as next year, when the department’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) is expected to issue its 12th report on carcinogens (ROC).

That NTP report classifies various chemicals and substances as either “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” or “known to be a human carcinogen”.  Substances that pose no health risk simply are not listed in the report.

Formaldehyde has been listed as a “reasonably anticipated” human carcinogen since the department’s second report on carcinogens in 1981, and its status has remained unchanged since then.

The expert panel meeting to be held over three days in November is part of a routine review of chemicals and substances on the ROC list, but it does raise the possibility that formaldehyde could be shifted to the more proscriptive “known to be a human carcinogen” category.

“We are not anticipating any change,” said Betsy Natz, executive director of the Formaldehyde Council, an industry trade group.

“We hope that the NTP draft background this week will be a complete and balanced view, and we hope they get the science right,” she added.

The NTP draft background will form the basis for the expert panel review that will be held in Durham, North Carolina, but the panel also will consider documents and oral testimony from stakeholders and environmental groups.

“We think the NTP and the panel should keep it where it is,” Natz said, referring to formaldehyde’s 28-year status as an “anticipated” human carcinogen.

She noted that formaldehyde “is one of the most widely studied chemicals in commerce, with some 600 animal studies and 100 human studies, and it is not bio-accumulative”.

If the department were to change the status of formaldehyde, she said, “it would not be a positive move, and we feel it would not be based on the scientific data”.

The consequences of a change in formaldehyde’s status on the NTP carcinogens report would be far-reaching, Natz said, noting that several US states and some foreign governments use the department’s carcinogen listings as criteria for their own laws and regulations.

“If the ROC were to list formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen,” she said, “it would create product deselection.”

Formaldehyde is used in the production of a wide range of resins, many of which in turn have multiple applications as adhesives - especially in plywood and particle board - and in paper treating and coatings, textile coatings, surface coatings and foams for insulation.

It also is used in the production of polyacetal plastics, automobiles and electronic equipment.

Formaldehyde is a major derivative of methanol.

For more on formaldehyde and methanol visit ICIS chemical intelligence
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By: Joe Kamalick
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