From The Biology Lab to Your Home

US Adds Formaldehyde to its “Report on Carcinogens”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added eight substances to its twelfth “Report on Carcinogens,” which divides dangers into two categories: known to be a human carcinogen and reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. The Huffington Post, in an article by Robyn Griggs Lawrence, notes that the chemical industry lobby has delayed the release of this report for years.

Formaldehyde, listed since the second Report on Carcinogens as “reasonably anticipated” to be a carcinogen, has now been added to the “known to be” category. Often remembered as the preservative for nightmarish specimens in high school science classes, formaldehyde is in fact an element found in many common household products.

EarthEasy.com’s post, “7 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Formaldehyde,” lists common household sources of formaldehyde and suggestions for how to minimize exposure:

Source: Plywood, pressed wood, particle board, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

Tip: Buy solid wood furniture or make sure pressed wood pieces are sealed.

Source: Paints, adhesives, varnishes and floor finishes.

Tip: Make sure you have sufficient ventilation when taking on a painting/papering/carpeting projects. Use Low-VOC or Zero-VOC paints.

Source: Smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.

Tip: Clean chimneys and wood-burning appliances regularly.

Many cosmetic products, such as hair and nail products, antiperspirants, body lotions and make-ups, also contain formaldehyde. According to the Beauty Blunder Blog, formaldehyde is often not listed so directly on labels. Chemical aliases include

  • cormalin
  • formic aldehyde
  • methanol
  • methyl aldehyde
  • oxymethane  

For more information on the chemical ingredients in your shampoos, soaps and lotions, the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s Cosmetics Database is a great resource.

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