Industry & Enviros to EPA: Regulate Formaldehyde (And Save Billions For US Taxpayers)

We've been busy sending people to the five recent public meetings held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on formaldehyde - all spurred by a 2008 petition by the Sierra Club and other health and environmental organizations.

Formaldehyde was the health culprit in the toxic trailers distributed to more than 140,000 families after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. I've mentioned this issue before in my column, too. Our work has even prompted EPA to schedule one more public meeting in a city they overlooked the first time - New Orleans.

EPA is now considering regulating formaldehyde, a toxic substance they (and other agencies) believe may cause cancer. Many types of composite wood products contain formaldehyde, including particle board and paneling, which begs the question - why aren't we already regulating a substance our government says may cause cancer?We already saw the short-term effects of formaldehyde (PDF) on the Katrina and Rita families - they reported burning eyes, throat irritation, bloody noses and headaches. Had this been regulated before 2005, we could have prevented such a crisis for those families.

Public Hearings On Formaldehyde - But Not Along The Gulf Coast?
And for the EPA to hold public meetings around the country about regulating formaldehyde without scheduling a single one anywhere along the Gulf Coast until pressured to do so by the Sierra Club - my reaction is shock and sadness.

Formaldehyde must be regulated because it's in composite wood products found all over the place - from RVs to house boats to portable classrooms used by schools.

It is time to regulate formaldehyde from composite wood products, and many in the wood products industry agree with us. We're with those in the industry who say, "Regulate formaldehyde in composite wood products, but make it fair and comprehensive." (Formaldehyde is also found in other products, including some carpets.)

Unfortunately, some in the composite wood products industry are making excuses and resisting regulation because they don’t want to have to prove they comply with the rule. EPA must stop bowing to industry pressure that favors profits over human health and safety. When the industry and our government talk about the expense of regulation, we point out that EPA should not focus solely on the cost of compliance by manufacturers.

Regulation Of Formaldehyde Would Have Saved Taxpayers Billions
Again, had formaldehyde already been regulated, we could have avoided the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer fiasco. That price tag went far beyond the $2 billion mark, and was exacerbated a year ago when Centers for Disease Control testing confirmed high formaldehyde levels and FEMA then moved people from the trailers to other housing. In many cases, these were expensive hotel rooms.

It is costing millions of dollars to store the toxic trailers that can’t be used, and FEMA is now being sued by tens of thousands of families. The cost of settling those lawsuits could be huge, and yet nothing will ever repay these families for the suffering that resulted from being exposed to high levels of formaldehyde for a long period of time.

We strongly support the regulations in use by the California Air Resources Board (details in this PDF fact sheet), as do some composite wood product companies.

The Composite Panel Association and other industry groups are also standing with Sierra Club in calling for tougher regulations.

There's no excuse for profits over human health. If this issue disturbs and motivates you to action like it has to me - then I encourage you to email EPA and tell them to regulate formaldehyde comprehensively and fairly.

We’re still waiting to hear when the New Orleans hearing will be – but we’ll update this post when we find out. That’s another place to let EPA know how you feel. And there is some good news to end on: this week the new EPA director said one of her top five priorities is managing chemical risks in consumer products.

Image credit:Formaldehyde Warning Sign, Lab Safety Supply
See our TreeHugger archives for a map of the long and winding road those toxic trailers have been down.
FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Liability Suit On The Way
FEMA Trailers Optimizing Formaldehyde Exposure
FEMA Trailers Had Too Much Particle Board, Too Little Ventilation ...
FEMA Ignored or Buried Formaldehyde Research
FEMA Formaldehyde Fiasco Festers
Toxic Trailers Not Just For FEMA
How CDC bungled FEMA Formaldehyde
The Toxic Trailer Legacy
Fundamentally "Flawed" CDC Report Failed to Mention Formaldehyde ...
FEMA Daleks Prepare For 2008 Hurricane Season: Formaldehyde ...
FEMA Earns Muzzle Award
1939: The Trailer Grows Up

Tags: Corporate Responsibility | EPA | Toxins