Council Confirms Formaldehyde as Carcinogen


A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council upheld the listing of formaldehyde as known to be a human carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program 12th Report on Carcinogens. Industry sources say it will be some time before its clear what impact that could have on formaldehyde releasing biocides in the metalworking fluids industry.

The committee that wrote the Research Council report found that the listing is supported by sufficient evidence from human studies that indicate a causal relationship between exposure to the chemical and at least one type of human cancer, an Aug. 8 National Academy of Sciences news release stated. The committee reached the same conclusion after conducting both a peer review of the RoC and an independent assessment of the formaldehyde literature.

The National Toxicology Program is an interagency program that produces the Report on Carcinogens. Based on RoC listing criteria, a substance can be classified as known to be a human carcinogen if there is sufficient evidence of carcinogencity from studies in humans that indicate a causal relationship between exposure to the substance and human cancer.

Neil Canter of Chemical Solutions, Willow Grove, Pa., said its too early to know the ramifications of the National Research Councils decision. It certainly suggests formaldehyde will be restricted, Canter told Lube Report. Its unclear exactly how quickly any movement to restrict or ban formaldehyde would be implemented. This may not play out for a year or two – nobody knows at this point.

He noted the possible impacts for the metalworking fluid industry are enormous because the main biocide used in industry is a formaldehyde releasing biocide that probably will be impacted by the regulation. Is it just the one main formaldehyde-releasing biocide affected, what about the other formaldehyde-releasing biocides that are out there? We just dont know, he said.

Now that the National Research Council has decided to agree with the EPAs Integrated Risk Information System statement about formaldehyde carcinogenicity, theres going to be a lot of scrambling going on to sort through how its going to ultimately impact formaldehyde condensate biocide use, Fred Passman of Biodeterioration Control Associates, Inc. of Princeton, N.J. told Lube Report. Thats really the news of the moment. Over the next probably 12 months, that story will unfold.

Passman explained that formaldehyde condensates are not the same as formaldehyde. Additionally, because only aldehyde-based microbicides like formaldehyde-condensates denature endotoxin – a known cause of allergenic respiratory disease – if formaldehyde-condensates are no longer available for use in metalworking fluids, he said, it is likely that the potential respiratory disease health risk will increase substantially.

They are probably more real and more sweeping than the health risk associated with formaldehyde exposure when people were using the currently recommended doses of formaldehyde-condensate microbicides, he noted.

The NRC report appears to conflict with the findings and recommendations made in a separate NRC committees review of the EPAs draft formaldehyde Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment, Jackson Morrill, director of the American Chemistry Councils Formaldehyde Panel, said in a news release. In 2011, that NRC committee reviewed EPAs analysis of the evidence for lymphohematopoietic cancers and noted inconsistencies in the epidemiologic data, the weak animal data and the lack of mechanistic data, Morrill added.

We are perplexed as to why todays report differs so greatly from the 2011 NRC committee report on the EPAs draft formaldehyde IRIS assessment, which considered the same scientific data, Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, said in the ACCs Aug. 8 news release. This reinforces the need for a comprehensive and fully integrative analysis of formaldehyde science in the U.S. Unfortunately, this committee was directed to apply existing RoC criteria, which have not incorporated recent recommendations for integration of evidence, such as those in Chapter 7 of the NRC 2011 report.

Pre-publication copies of Review of the Formaldehyde Assessment in the National Toxicology Program 12th Report on Carcinogens are available for $50 per copy from the National Academy of Sciences web site. For information, click here.