Part of the mission of the EPA, through its Office of Research and Development, is the evaluation of all substances in commerce to identify and characterize the health hazards of those substances. These assessments are conducted through what is called the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) process and are intended to provide a comprehensive hazard review of all toxicology and epidemiology data available on any given chemical.
Industry, academia, NGO’s and Congress have been critical of EPA in terms of how they evaluate the health impacts of these substances. This certainly holds true in the case of formaldehyde, where there is overall lack of trust by many of these groups that EPA will fairly assess its potential health hazards and exposure risks.
The potential impacts of flawed and inaccurate chemical assessments by the IRIS program is far reaching. For instance, these reviews form the basis for developing an overall risk assessment and basis for restrictive regulations, which, if not done using sound science principles and not weighing all the available scientific data (for which formaldehyde has a very rich database where all the data must be integrated), can not only unnecessarily create confusion in the marketplace, but also create unfounded fear among the general public.
Further, how a chemical is characterized in terms of overall health impacts is what drives EPA and other government agencies and non-government organizations in setting safe exposure levels be it for indoor or outdoor environments.
EPA is in the process of reviewing formaldehyde with the IRIS program. Provided here is the link to the projected EPA timeline for finalizing the IRIS review and the EPA website that outlines the process: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/iris2/chemicalLanding.cfm?substance_nmbr=419.
Most critically, in 2010 the National Academy of Science (NAS) was directed by EPA to review its draft IRIS health assessment on formaldehyde . The NAS committee conclusions were very critical of the draft EPA evaluation in a number of key areas. Click here for the NAS Formaldehyde Reportand a letter from the American Chemistry Council’s Formaldehyde Panelto the EPA outlining ongoing concerns by the ACC regarding EPA’s lack of progress in implementing many of the recommendations offered by this preeminent group of scientists assembled by the NAS back in 2010.