Updated EPA Analysis of Long-Term Health Effects of Formaldehyde Exposure May Have Long-Lasting Implications for Manufacturers | Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

On April 14, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released draft findings in a report updating its analysis regarding exposure to formaldehyde, suggesting that long-term exposures to small amounts of formaldehyde in the environment may increase the risk of rare head and neck tumours. , leukemia and other health threats. Findings are not the agency’s final action. Nevertheless, manufacturers should be aware of the potential for the EPA analysis to influence both regulation and litigation at the state and federal levels.

For over a decade, there has been much debate and study about the long-term effects of exposure to formaldehyde. The new EPA analysis is an update of a 2010 draft EPA report that was heavily criticized by scientists, lawmakers and chemical manufacturers and which brought the EPA back to the drawing-board. For example, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine criticized the EPA’s 2010 draft report for failing to describe the rationale for its methodology and for not sufficiently substantiating its conclusions.

The updated analysis is based on an entirely new analysis of scientific studies on formaldehyde, including research published after 2010. The current analysis differs from previous EPA findings in that it incorporates studies using new technologies that can measure smaller doses of formaldehyde. The health issues discussed in the EPA’s updated analysis are largely the same as previously published, including an increased risk of tumors in the head, neck and sinuses; leukemia; decreased lung function; asthma; and allergic. The report also discusses the possibility that inhaling formaldehyde may delay pregnancy and cause spontaneous abortion.

The EPA report focuses on environmental exposure and formaldehyde as a hazardous air pollutant. However, formaldehyde is also used to make thousands of products and other chemicals used for adhesives, paint, insulation, plywood, dishwashing liquids, permanent-press fabrics, paper products, medicines, embalming fluids, make-up and other products. As such, manufacturers should be aware of the potentially immense impact of EPA’s analysis on tort litigation.

Manufacturers are no strangers to formaldehyde litigation. For example, in 2018 Virginia-based Lumber Liquidators agreed to pay $36 million to resolve class action lawsuits alleging the company was selling formaldehyde-based laminate flooring imported from China to consumers. The level of formaldehyde in the imported laminate would have exceeded the emission standards adopted by the federal government.

At this time, the updated analysis is only in draft form and has not yet undergone scientific review by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The EPA is accepting public comments on the updated analysis until June 13, 2022.

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