Large manufacturers and chemical producers have lobbied ferociously to stop the National Institutes of Health from classifying formaldehyde as a carcinogen. A wide body of research has linked the chemical to cancer, but industrial polluters have stymied regulators from action.
Last year, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported that billionaire David Koch, whose company Georgia Pacfic (a subsidiary of Koch Industries) is one of the country’s top producers of formaldehyde, was appointed to the NIH cancer board at a time when the NIH delayed action on the chemical. The news was met with protests from environmental groups. Koch offered his resignation from the board in September.
Yesterday, the NIH finally handed down a report officially classifying formaldehyde as a carcinogen:
Government scientists listed formaldehyde as a carcinogen, and said it is found in worrisome quantities in plywood, particle board, mortuaries and hair salons. They also said that styrene, which is used in boats, bathtubs and in disposable foam plastic cups and plates, may cause cancer but is generally found in such low levels in consumer products that risks are low. Frequent and intense exposures in manufacturing plants are far more worrisome than the intermittent contact that most consumers have, but government scientists said that consumers should still avoid contact with formaldehyde and styrene along with six other chemicals that were added Friday to the government’s official Report on Carcinogens. Its release was delayed for years because of intense lobbying from the chemical industry, which disputed its findings.
An investigation by ProPublica found that Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) had used their power to add years of delay to the report. The piece linked Vitter to lobbying from Koch’s Georgia Pacific company, which has plywood plants in Louisiana.
This post has been corrected. David Koch left the NIH’s cancer board after serving a full term.