Administration Weighs Review Of Formaldehyde, Styrene Science

June 2011 Vol. 66 No. 6

Officials from the Obama administration are discussing whether the administration should review the data being used to support a forthcoming Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assessment that could label formaldehyde as a carcinogen in the wake of industry and other concerns, including a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel that criticized similar EPA claims.

Questions were also raised regarding the inclusion of styrene as a “reasonably anticipated carcinogen.”

At a June 3 hearing of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s oversight panel, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) asked the administration’s Regulatory Review Chief Cass Sunstein to review the matter, citing concerns that a carcinogenic label could have an impact on jobs.

While the matter is not a rulemaking being reviewed by the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein agreed to raise the issue with his colleague John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and a special assistant to the president on science.

The study at issue, the twelfth Report on Carcinogens (RoC), is prepared by HHS’ National Toxicology Program (NTP). Congress directed the program to prepare the report every other year, but due to concerns over the review process for the document, the last RoC was published in 2005. NTP forwarded the latest RoC for its final stage of review -- by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- earlier this spring, but the document has yet to be released.

Later in the June 3 hearing, Griffith also raised questions about the NTP profile of styrene, which, if branded carcinogenic, could also lead to a loss of jobs in his district. “We have all these jobs that would be impacted and the science doesn’t seem to back that up,” Griffith said.

Griffith signed onto a letter last month with other House colleagues raising questions about the study on styrene’s carcinogenicity and urging the Obama administration to delay issuing the report, arguing that it could jeopardize a host of pollution control technologies.

Speaking to Inside EPA after the hearing, Griffith reiterated his concerns about the science behind the NTP assessments. “The science is not there to justify that these are carcinogens,” he said.