The Environmental Protection Agency is suppressing a bombshell report warning that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor to risk developing leukemia or other diseases, a former agency official and a current one told Politico.
A draft health assessment of the chemical was finished before Donald Trump became president — yet the EPA has yet to release the findings.
“They’re stonewalling every step of the way,” said the current EPA official, who was not named by Politico. The official was referring to the formaldehyde study as well as other assessments of chemicals by the agency’s scientifically independent Risk Information System.
Former EPA head Scott Pruitt, who resigned Thursday in the face of multiple ethics investigations, was asked about the assessment at a Senate hearing in January.
“It’s my understanding that the EPA has finalized its conclusion that formaldehyde causes leukemia and other cancers,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) told Pruitt. The EPA chief responded: “You know, my understanding is similar to yours.”
Keeping the health assessment under wraps fuels criticism that the EPA, increasingly peopled by political appointees with corporate connections, appears more concerned about shielding industries than protecting the environment and the health of Americans from toxic chemicals.
Formaldehyde is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the nation. It’s used in wood composites in furniture and cabinets, as well as in cleaning products and cosmetics, and is spewed into the air by oil refineries. Formaldehyde can be inhaled as a gas or vapor or it can be absorbed through the skin in liquid form, according to the National Cancer Institute. The federal Centers for Disease Control says that formaldehyde is “known to cause cancer.”
Release of the EPA’s health assessment — followed by verification by the National Academies of Sciences — could trigger new regulations on the chemical and bolster lawsuits against companies from people suffering ill effects from it.
But the American Chemistry Council’s Formaldehyde Panel, an industry trade group that includes Exxon Mobil, has been lobbying the EPA to go slow on releasing the assessment.
“A premature release of a draft assessment… will cause irreparable harm to the companies represented by the Panel and to the many companies and jobs that depend on the broad use of the chemical,” said a letter obtained by Politico and written in January to EPA officials by panel representative Kimberly Wise White.
Pruitt last year appointed White to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board even as she remains a senior director at the American Chemistry Council. Nancy Beck, who used to be on the industry council, is now a top deputy shaping the EPA’s policies on hazardous chemicals.
Markey and two other senators sent a letter to Pruitt in May expressing concern that “political appointees” were dragging their feet on releasing the assessment as the agency was being pressured by corporations with links to people inside the EPA.
The EPA has denied it’s suppressing the document or keeping Americans in the dark about the risks they face.
The agency “continues to discuss this assessment with our agency program partners,” agency spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell said in a statement. “Assessments of this type... undergo an extensive intra-agency and interagency process.”