Formaldehyde Industry Winning in Katrina Country

BeakerAfter Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, thousands of Louisiana residents claimed to suffer respiratory problems after being housed in government trailers contaminated with formaldehyde. Despite this, Senator David Vitter, (R-Louisiana), has been working to stall the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's process of updating its 20 year-old health risk assessment of formaldehyde. EPA analyzes the potential health risks of chemicals and the agency's information then provides the basis for state and federal regulations on a chemical's use and exposure. EPA issued its first risk assessment for formaldehyde in 1989. The agency has been trying to update it since 1998, but has been repeatedly stalled by Congress. Even though EPA says more study of formaldehyde is not needed, Vitter recently pushed EPA to agree to yet another review of its long-delayed assessment of formaldehyde's health effects, a move that won him praise from companies that manufacture and use formaldehyde. Vitter has also been holding up the nomination of an assistant EPA administrator until the agency agrees to yet another review of formaldehyde by the National Academy of Sciences. As long as Vitter can force EPA to keep "studying" the risks of formaldehyde, the agency has to list the chemical as a "probable" instead of a "known" carcinogen -- even though three major scientific reviews now link the chemical to leukemia, and reinforce its ties to other forms of cancer. Vitter gets substantial financial contributions from Louisiana companies that produce formaldehyde waste, and that have interests in formaldehyde regulation. Formaldehyde is widely used in manufacturing, and is found in everything from plywood to carpet.