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Chemical Regulation

The ACC sues the US EPA and the National Academies over formaldehyde risk assessment

Both organizations failed to meet legal standards of transparency and independence during assessment’s peer-review process, the trade group claims

by Krystal Vasquez
July 26, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 25


A stack of plywood.
Credit: Shutterstock
Formaldehyde is commonly found in the adhesives that hold together composite wood products, such as plywood.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the US chemical industry’s main trade group, is suing the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine over the EPA’s 2022 draft risk assessment of formaldehyde. In a statement announcing the lawsuit, the ACC claims that both organizations failed to follow “basic standards for scientific integrity, independent peer review, and governmental transparency.”

Released in April 2022, the EPA draft report concludes that formaldehyde, a chemical building block used by a number of industries, is carcinogenic to humans. Inhaling even low levels of the chemical could lead to nasopharyngeal cancer and myeloid leukemia, the report says.

The ACC immediately faulted the findings, maintaining that formaldehyde exposure is safe at current regulatory levels. The ACC also took issue with the document’s review process, which the EPA contracted the National Academies to carry out.

The lawsuit states that when the National Academies formed its review committee, it “failed to adhere to basic standards of the peer-review process such as use of a balanced committee and avoidance of conflicts of interest.” In addition, the ACC claims that senior EPA officials were able to influence the selection of committee members.

These practices, the ACC says, violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA mandates that federal agencies meet certain standards of transparency, balance, and independence during the peer-review process.

“Given the above violations of FACA and the lack of scientific integrity, any reliance on or use of the Committee’s report by EPA would be arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful,” the lawsuit states.

Maria Doa, Senior Director for Chemicals Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, questions the validity of ACC’s claims. She says there’s no reason to believe that the assessment’s review process violates FACA.

The lawsuit is “just another stalling tactic from ACC’s tired playbook” to prevent the EPA from completing its assessment of formaldehyde, Doa says. The agency plans to use the assessment to evaluate the compound under the Toxic Substances Control Act.



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