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May 142009

Green Right Now Reports:

In a study released Tuesday by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers report that they have found a continuing “possible link” between formaldehyde exposure and death from cancers of the blood and lymphatic system among workers exposed to the chemical.

The report is part of an ongoing study of industrial workers in plants making formaldehyde products.

“Since the 1980s, NCI has studied cancer deaths among a group of 25,619 workers, predominately white males, who were employed before 1966 in 10 industrial plants that produced formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin and that used the chemical to produce molded-plastic products, decorative laminates, photographic film, or plywood,” according to the NCI release.

These workers show a higher susceptibility to certain cancers, especially among workers with high exposure to the chemical, researchers say.

“Workers with the highest peak exposures had a 37 percent increased risk of death compared to those with the lowest level of peak exposures. This represents an excess risk of death from several specific cancers, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and myeloid leukemia – the type most often associated with chemical exposure,” the NCI release noted.

Researchers called the findings “not definitive” but “consistent” with previous work showing a relationship between formaldehyde and cancers of the blood and lymphatic system.

Analysis of the same group of workers has shown that the risk of death from myeloid leukemia, for instance, was 78 percent higher among industrial workers with the highest peak exposures compared to those with the lowest peak exposures (though the risk has been declining over time, possibly due to “chance” or due to the risk of developing the cancer peaking relatively soon after exposure).

The Formaldehyde Council disputed the study, noting that the researchers’ concession that the cancer link was not “definitive.” The industry group asserted that  “the rate of leukemia in the study group is no different than that in the U.S. population” and called for more research into the health effects of formaldehyde by the National Academy of Sciences.

Formaldehyde is found in pressed wood products used in construction, cabinetry, insulation, disinfectants and in some beauty products, where it turns up as a preservative.

It remains unclear whether routine household exposure to the chemical would raise anyone’s risk of contracting cancer. But advocacy groups concerned about the build-up of many chemicals in the body advise consumers to be aware of formaldehyde in products and to wear gloves when using disinfectants or cleaners containing the product.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recently found a small amount of formaldehyde in baby products, which has triggered a bill in Congress called the Safe Baby Products Act that would ban the chemical in such consumer items.