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Aug 12 2011

Government Says Two Common Materials Pose Risk of Cancer

Posted in Community Service, Product Liability

Are there dangerous and defective products being utilized in your home? One of the best ways to find out is by keeping updated on U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls, Alabama product liability attorney Keith T. Belt says

The government issued warnings on Friday about two materials used daily by millions of Americans, saying that one causes cancer and the other might.

Government scientists listed formaldehyde as a carcinogen, and said it is found in worrisome quantities in plywood, particle board, mortuaries and hair salons. They also said that styrene, which is used in boats, bathtubs and in disposable foam plastic cups and plates, may cause cancer but is generally found in such low levels in consumer products that risks are low.

Frequent and intense exposures in manufacturing plants are far more worrisome than the intermittent contact that most consumers have, but government scientists said that consumers should still avoid contact with formaldehyde and styrene along with six other chemicals that were added Friday to the government’s official Report on Carcinogens. Its release was delayed for years because of intense lobbying from the chemical industry, which disputed its findings.

John Bucher, associate director of the National Toxicology Program, which produced the report, said evidence of formaldehyde’s carcinogenicity was far stronger than for styrene and that consumers were more likely to be exposed to potentially dangerous quantities of formaldehyde.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration warned in April that a hair-care product, Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, contained unacceptable levels of formaldehyde, and salon workers have reported headaches, nosebleeds, burning eyes, vomiting and asthma attacks after using the product and other hair-straighteners.

Studies of workers like embalmers exposed to high levels of formaldehyde have found increased incidences of myeloid leukemia and rare cancers of the nasal passages and upper mouth.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said that formaldehyde is both worrisome and inescapable. “It’s the smell in new houses, and it’s in cosmetics like nail polish,” he said. “All a reasonable person can do is manage their exposure and decrease it to as little as possible. It’s everywhere.”

Consumers can reduce their exposure to formaldehyde by avoiding pressed-wood products or buying only those that are labeled as U.L.E.F. (ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde), N.A.F. (no added formaldehyde) or C.A.R.B. (California Air Resources Board) Phase 1 or Phase 2 compliant.

Styrene is mostly a concern for workers who build boats, car parts, bathtubs and shower stalls. Studies of workers exposed to high levels of styrene have found increased risks of leukemia and lymphoma and genetic damage to white blood cells. There is also some evidence that styrene increases the risks of cancer of the pancreas and esophagus among styrene workers, the report found. Consumers can be exposed to styrene from the fumes of building materials, photocopiers and tobacco smoke.

As for styrene’s presence in plastic utensils and other consumer products, Dr. Brawley likened the risk from such products to that of coffee and cellphones — uncertain and slight