Long considered a potential carcinogen, formaldehyde was just classified as a carcinogen by government scientists, The New York Times reports, noting that the deadly chemical can be found in concerning amounts in “plywood, particleboard, mortuaries, and hair salons.”
Formaldehyde can also cause other illnesses ranging from nose bleeds to chronic bronchitis and other respiratory problems, and was previously classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Styrene, found in boats and bathtubs and which is very commonly used in those ubiquitous, disposable foam plastic cups and plates, was classified as a possible carcinogen; however the levels and risk are considered low, said The New York Times. Styrene is a liquid form of Styrofoam, noted CNN.
The just-released 12th Report on Carcinogens, issued by the National Toxicology Program, officially added formaldehyde to its list of carcinogens, said CNN, following ongoing delays prompted, in many cases and not unexpectedly, by arguments from the chemical industry. Industry claims the studies that made the formaldehyde-cancer link are not science based, claiming the toxin is naturally occurring in the environment. Advocates point out that formaldehyde levels in consumer products “nail polish, hair straighteners, pressed woods” as well as industrial glues and automotive exhaust, are much higher than the small amounts found in nature, said CNN. Formaldehyde is most commonly known for its presence in embalming fluid and is what gives cars that “new care smell,” noted CNN.
Dr. Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer at the American Cancer Society and a CNNHealth.com contributor, is more concerned with formaldehyde and workers exposed to the carcinogen as part of their jobs. “I worry about workers in the funeral industry, nail technicians, and beauticians,” he said. “It’s not just one exposure. It’s continuous exposure over time that increases risk,” he added, quoted CNN.
In October, we wrote that health officials in Oregon issued an alert to hair salons thereafter workers at one Oregon salon complained that they had suffered eye irritation, nose bleeds, and difficulty breathing after using the Brazilian Blowout hair treatment. At the time, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) said it had found significant levels of formaldehyde in the hair-smoothing solution sold under the name Brazilian Blowout. It later broadened the alert, telling salons that when using hair-smoothing treatments, particularly those referred to as “Keratin-based” should take necessary precautions outlined in its formaldehyde rule. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating hair products.
Last month, Congress urged the FDA to issue a voluntary recall of two controversial salon hair-straightening treatments over concerns surrounding significantly high formaldehyde levels, said The Wall Street Journal.
Formaldehyde is not listed on most labels, which can make it difficult to reduce one’s exposure to the toxin, said Dr. Brawley, who is calling for better labeling. “Over time, manufacturers will work very hard to get these things out of their products,” he said. “I think you’ll start to see many companies labeling their products ‘formaldehyde-free”, quoted CNN. Dr. Brawley said that, in the meantime, consumers should ensure new cars and newly carpeted areas are well ventilated and should ask manufacturers if products contain formaldehyde; employees who work near the chemical should ensure employers follow all of OSHA’s formaldehyde regulations, reported CNN.
The New York Times also suggested that consumers avoid pressed-wood products or use only those products labeled as U.L.E.F. (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde), N.A.F. (no added formaldehyde), or C.A.R.B. (California Air Resources Board) Phase 1 or Phase 2 compliant.
The report also added inhalable glass wool fibers, which can be found in insulation; aristolochic acids, which are used in some herbal treatments and teas; and cobalt-tungsten carbide powders to the list of known carcinogens.