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CPSC Forms Federal Panel To Provide Scientific Advice On The Cancer-Causing Potential Of Formaldehyde

Release Date: February 12, 1980

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in conjunction with the National Toxicology Program has announced the formation of a federal panel of scientific and health experts to help assess the human health implications of findings that formaldehyde has caused cancer in laboratory rats.

CPSC Chairman Susan King will be working this month with Dr. David Rail, the chief of the National Toxicology Program b (within the federal department of HEW), to assemble the panel from various federal health and safety agencies and scientific organizations. Dr. Rail also serves as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The panel will convene monthly and provide scientific assistance to CPSC as it considers data on formaldehyde, including recent results from a laboratory cancer study being conducted by the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT).

The two-year study of the effects of various doses of formaldehyde gas on several hundred laboratory rats and mice is being conducted at the Battelle Institute of Columbus, Ohio, under contract to CIIT. The study recently reached the stage of three-fourths completion.

CIIT and the Formaldehyde Institute (a New York-based industry association) reported .to CPSC last October that three of the laboratory rats had developed prominent nasal cancer tumors. identified as squamous cell carcinoma.

CPSC health scientists and officials of other health and safety regulatory agencies traveled to CIIT headquarters in North Carolina last month to discuss the updated test results. The agency experts learned that these cancers were now evident in a total of 37 rats. In a random sample of rats selected for sacrifice and pathological examination after exposure at the dose level of 15 parts-per-million, 20 per cent of the rats showed squamous cell carcinoma. (No evidence of cancer has been found among the laboratory mice, or in rats exposed to lower dosages, in the work completed so far.

Approximately 6-5 billion pounds of formaldehyde were produced domestically in 1978. About 50 per cent of this total was used by the wood products industry, principally in the manufacturer of particle board and plywood. Another two per cent of the total in 1978 (or about 100 million pounds) was used to manufacture urea formaldehyde (UF) foam insulation.

The safety and health effects of UF foam insulation have been the focus of a CPSC investigation since 1978. CPSC has received more than 600 consumer complaints about adverse health effects .that may be caused by formaldehyde gas being released from this insulation. UF foam insulation has been installed in more than 500,000 homes nationwide since 1976.

As part of its investigation, CPSC has completed three of four regional hearings which will help the Commission decide on regulatory alternatives for UF foam insulation. The last hearing is scheduled for February 26 in Hartford, Conn.

Regulatory alternatives could include information disclosure to consumers, product recalls on a case-by-case basis, product safety standards, and possibly a ban of UF foam insulation.

In addition, the Commission is working closely with the Department of Energy and other federal health and safety agencies to develop a coordinated regulatory approach toward formaldehyde.

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The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

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