The Environmental Protection Agency will conduct a four-part investigation into the possible health risks of exposure to formaldehyde in homes, schools and office buildings nationwide.
The investigation was prompted by a petition by 25 environmental groups and 5,000 individuals across the country.
Exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to watery eyes, headaches, depression and even cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). People with existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and emphysema have an increased risk of reacting to formaldehyde, which can leach out from plywood, particleboard and fiberboard used in manufactured housing materials, including cabinets, flooring and other wood-based products. Often, it's the glue holding these products together that contains formaldehyde, which "off-gases" over time, so that people can breathe in toxic vapors.
The EPA investigation is likely to be a long one. It includes determining what regulations might be needed to protect public health, a thorough review of available science about the health risks of formaldehyde, a survey of industries that use formaldehyde and coordination with another federal department (the Department of Housing and Urban Development is revising its standards for formaldehyde in manufactured houses).
The Sierra Club praised the EPA's plan, with one exception. It had argued that the EPA should adopt California's strict limits on formaldehyde in three types of composite wood products, a move the EPA rejected. The wood products that must comply with the regulations in California are hardwood plywood, particleboard and medium density fiberboard, all of which are used widely in furniture and building materials.
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