Published on June 12th, 2011 | by Karen Lee


Formaldehyde Listed as Carcinogen

The government issued a warning last Friday about two common chemicals. It also added a botanical to the list of carcinogens.  What do these two chemicals do  and how are they classified by the National Toxicology Program that issued the report?

Department of Health and Human Services added industrial chemical, formaldehyde, and a botanical known as aristolochic acids, to the category “known to be  human carcinogen.” Six other substances, including captafol, cobalt-tungsten carbide: powders and hard metals, certain glass wool fibers (inhalable), o-nitrotoluene, riddelliine, and styrene, are listed in the list, “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Known to be Human Carcinogen

Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde is colorless, flammable, and strong smelling substance widely used in building materials and household products. Most formaldehyde produced in the United States is used to make adhesives for pressed wood, such as particleboard, furniture, paneling, cabinets, and other products. Formaldehyde is also commonly used as a preservative in medical labs, mortuaries, and bath and beauty consumer products. It is also a by-product of automobile combustion and is produced in small amounts by most living organisms, including humans. Most people are exposed to formaldehyde in workplace and at home where formaldehyde is manufactured or used.

Aristolochic Acid – Aristolochic acids are a family of acids that are found naturally in the plants Aristolochia and Asarum, which grow throughout the United States and worldwide. These are used in herbal medicine and have been found to be carcinogenic. In 2001, FDA warned against using botanical products containing Aristolochic Acid because it’s associated to permanent kidney damage. According to studies in humans, high rates of cancers of the urinary bladder or upper urinary tract is evident among individuals with kidney or renal disease who consumed botanical products containing aristolochic acids.

Reasonably Anticipated to be Human Carcinogen

Six substances that have been listed as having limited biological effects of cancer  are: captafol, cobalt-tungsten carbide: powders and hard metals, certain glass wool fibers (inhalable), o-nitrotoluene, riddelliine, and styrene.

One common chemical, styrene is used in the manufacture of products such as rubber, plastic, insulation, fiberglass, pipes, automobile parts, food containers, and carpet backing. Styrene is precursor to polystyrene, styrofoam food containers, and it has been found to be carcinogenic in those workers who are exposed to styrene for work, like boat builders, bath and shower stall manufacturers, and car parts manufacturers. These workers have increased risk of leukemia, lymphoma, pancreatic and esophagus cancer, and genetic damage to white blood cells.


According to officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, it held the report for months to cope with complaints from the industry. “Industry held this report up for four years,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They have tried to create the impression that there was real scientific uncertainty here, but there’s not.”

However, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group, lashed out at the report as Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the ACC stated, “Today’s report by HHS made unfounded classifications of both formaldehyde and styrene and will unnecessarily alarm consumers…We are extremely concerned that politics may have hijacked the scientific process”

You can read the report here: http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/roc12

{Top Photo} Wkipedia

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About the Author

Karen lives a simple, frugal, green life and shares her eco tips and news on ecokaren and is a co-founder of Green Sisterhood, a network of community of green women bloggers, making change. When she's not managing Green Sisterhood or blogging on ecokaren, she is a chauffeur to two greenagers, wife to an accidental recycler, master chef to hungry locavores, seamstress, knitter, and dumpster diver, not necessarily in that order.

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