According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, formaldehyde is commonly found in a wide range of consumer products, according to “When Wrinkle-Free Clothing Also Means Formaldehyde Fumes” in the New York Times on December 10, 2010. There are also personal care products included, such as shampoo, lotion, and eye shadows, in addition to sheets, pillowcases, and drapes.
A dermatologist and other scientist quoted in the Times appears unaware of the long-standing scientific evidence that formaldehyde is carcinogenic, according to Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. Nevertheless, from 1981 to 2004, five National Toxicology Program Carcinogen Reports detailed this..”
There were low or undetectable levels of formaldehyde in most of the 180 items tested, mostly clothes and bed linens, according to the Times. The Times argues that consumers will probably never experience formaldehyde exposure, since such low levels “are unlikely to irritate most people,” except for those who wear wrinkle-resistant clothing.
According to Dr. Epstein, exposure to formaldehyde is linked to an increased incidence of nasal cancer and breast cancer. Neither the federal government nor the state agencies regulate the levels of formaldehyde in clothing. As a result, manufacturers are not required to disclose how formaldehyde is used in clothing.”
It might change, however. A bill to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was introduced on March 5, 2008 by Senators Bob Casey, Sherrod Brown, and Mary Landrieu, which would “help protect Americans from dangerous levels of formaldehyde in textiles, including clothing…”
According to the Senators, formaldehyde “causes cancer in animal tests and may cause cancer in humans,” according to a 1997 report from the CPSC on formaldehyde. In order to prevent consumers from being poisoned by formaldehyde in textiles, the Senate requested that the CPSC regulate and test formaldehyde in textiles..”
There is a small percentage of the U.S. population that develops allergic reactions to formaldehyde resins on their clothing, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). However, no regulatory action was recommended by the GAO.
The five National Toxicology Program Reports on Carcinogens cited by Epstein support both regulatory and legislative action based on scientific evidence. Based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence in experimental animals, formaldehyde was classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
IARC reports in 2006 and 2010 explicitly state that formaldehyde can cause leukemia in animals – and nasal cancer in humans – due to its known risk for causing cancer.
“Weird” evidence also emerged in a May 2010 report by the President’s Cancer Panel, “Environmental Cancer Risk: What Can We Do Now?”
“In spite of this explicit evidence,” says Epstein, “the Government Accountability Office reported in September 2010 that formaldehyde is not a cancer risk because exposure levels are low or non-detectable.”
Furthermore, Dr. Epstein says, “A 1995 report by the National Cancer Institute links formaldehyde to breast cancer deaths, and a 2005 report by the University of Texas links environmental exposure to breast cancer incidence.”
It’s disturbing, says Dr. Epstein, that none of the dermatologists quoted in the New York Times seem aware of longstanding evidence that most cosmetics and personal care products contain up to eight ingredients that cause formaldehyde. Besides their kids and infants, most women use them every day.
Each of these products breaks down to release formaldehyde on the skin, including Diazolidinyl urea, methenamine, and quaternions. It’s readily absorbed through the skin, so most U.S. residents don’t know that it’s harmful.”
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