Energy & Environment

EPA officials claim political interference in cancer-causing chemical study: report

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Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say that political appointees put in place by departing administrator Scott Pruitt are slowing the release of a report warning that most Americans are exposed to enough formaldehyde on a regular basis to increase risks of cancer.

One current and one former EPA official told Politico that Pruitt’s appointees are stonewalling the report’s release “every step of the way” over concerns that the report’s release would have a negative impact on businesses that use the chemical.

“EPA continues to discuss this assessment with our agency program partners and have no further updates to provide at this time,” EPA spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell told Politico. “Assessments of this type are often the result of needs for particular rulemakings and undergo an extensive intra-agency and interagency process.”


Pruitt’s appointees are reportedly blocking the report from being reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, an independent panel of top scientists who have already been paid $500,000 to complete the review of the report. The EPA has yet to transfer the report to the scientists to begin the review.

“If the administration was really keen on protecting public health, why wouldn’t they send this to the National Academy and give it a really good review?” a former EPA official asked Politico, adding that there was only one reason to avoid submitting the report to the review panel: “You don’t want the answer.”

Pruitt told a Senate panel in January that the report was completed, meaning it is now almost five months since the EPA has taken any public action on the review, according to Politico.

Internal documents obtained by Politico show lobbying from the American Chemistry Council (ACC) urging the EPA to avoid releasing the report “prematurely.”

“As stated in our meeting, a premature release of a draft assessment … will cause irreparable harm to the companies represented by the Panel and to the many companies and jobs that depend on the broad use of the chemical,” wrote the ACC’s Kimberly Wise White.

Following the publication of Politico’s report, the ACC issued a statement denying the connection between formaldehyde exposure and developing leukemia. 

“The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence clearly demonstrates formaldehyde does not cause leukemia. The science shows the draft IRIS document is just plain wrong – closer to science fiction than sound science,” the statement said.

Previous research has linked exposure to the chemical to an increased chance of developing leukemia.

Democrats and other critics of the Trump administration’s management of the EPA urged the EPA to “move past politics” in statements to Politico regarding the report’s burying.

“Because formaldehyde can be found in everything from wood products to women’s hair straighteners, the public health risks are substantial,” Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey (D) said in a statement. “Delaying the EPA’s latest assessment of the health risks of formaldehyde only further endangers the health of Americans.”

The report confirms that formaldehyde is linked to leukemia, nose and throat cancer and other ailments, according to Politico’s sources.

–Updated 7:45 p.m.

Tags Cancer Ed Markey EPA Formaldehyde National Academy of Sciences Public health Scott Pruitt Trump administration
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