Funeral workers risk cancer from formaldehyde
Fri Nov 20, 2009 4:58pm EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Morticians who use formaldehyde to embalm bodies have a higher risk of leukemia, researchers reported on Friday. They found deaths from one particular kind of leukemia, myeloid leukemia, increased the longer the workers were involved with embalming. Their study of more than 400 funeral workers is the first to look carefully at the association, they reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "Previous studies have shown excess mortality from lymphohematopoietic malignancies and brain cancer in anatomists, pathologists, and funeral industry workers, all of whom may have worked with formaldehyde," Laura Freeman of the U.S. National Cancer Institute and colleagues wrote. They studied 168 professionals who died of various forms of leukemia, 48 who died of brain tumors and compared them to 265 funeral workers who died of something else.
The people who spent more years embalming bodies or were otherwise exposed to embalming fluid were more likely to have died from a myeloid leukemia, the researchers found. "In recent decades, more than 2 million U.S. workers are exposed to formaldehyde, including anatomists, pathologists, and professionals who are employed in the funeral industry and who handle bodies or biological specimens preserved with formaldehyde," they wrote. Their study could help explain a known higher risk of death among these professionals, they said. (Editing by Xavier Briand)
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National Academy of Sciences: Formaldehyde Causes CancerEWG: Review of EPA Health Assessment Should Not Delay Final ActionCONTACT: EWG Public Affairs: 202.667.6982. email@example.comFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 8, 2011Washington, D.C. – Congress, at the request of industry, has managed to delay efforts by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to classify formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen, a significant step for public health protection that other U.S. and international scientific and public health agencies have already taken.
Today the National Academies of Science’s National Research Council (NRC) completed its independent review of EPA’s draft assessment and confirmed formaldehyde as a known cause of cancer of the nose, nasal cavity and throat. However, a final assessment by EPA will likely see further delay as the NRC concluded it “needs substantial revisions”.
EPA, which currently classifies the substance as a probable human carcinogen, first began a revision of its formaldehyde toxicity assessment in 1998, but efforts by some in Congress have slowed the process to a crawl. The latest intervention came from Louisiana Senator David Vitter (R) who in 2009 asked EPA for an independent review of its DRAFT assessment of possible health risks to humans from formaldehyde exposure by the NRC, and held up EPA political nominations until his request was granted.
“Formaldehyde is a case study in EPA paralysis. Despite being widely acknowledged as causing cancer, political meddling and endless review have stalled agency efforts to reduce consumer and worker exposures,” said EWG senior scientist David Andrews, Ph.D. “In 2008, the Government Accountability Office highlighted formaldehyde as one of three pressing examples of political interference hindering the Agency’s efforts to “complete timely, credible assessments” for hazardous chemicals. Further delays in EPA’s formaldehyde assessment mean more risk to consumers, and more cancer.”
Formaldehyde is used in a vast array of industrial and consumer products, and there is widespread agreement that consumer exposures must be reduced to protect health. According to ICIS, an international chemical market research firm, nearly two-thirds of the formaldehyde market is for resins to make construction materials such as plywood, particle board, fiber board, laminate flooring, and insulation and for vehicles coatings and brake linings. Other major uses include plastics for electronic, automotive and consumer goods, polyurethane foam, and adhesives and sealants for construction and consumer goods.
Many Americans are exposed to significant amounts of formaldehyde daily. Vehicle exhausts contain formaldehyde, a byproduct of gasoline combustion, and adhesives in pressed wood products release formaldehyde vapors. Indoor air levels of formaldehyde are often ten times higher than outdoor city air and are highest in new inexpensive housing like the Hurricane Katrina trailers.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org