News Analysis

Formaldehyde Causes Cancer; Styrene a Likely Carcinogen

In its long-delayed 12th Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has finally classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen. The report also addresses two other substances commonly used in building materials: styrene and fiberglass.

Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC) used in the binders of many common building products, including plywood, particleboard, and fiberglass insulation. The substance offgases from these building materials into the indoor environment and can cause other health problems in addition to cancer, such as headaches, asthma, and depression. The decision to reclassify formaldehyde follows decades of delays caused by industry resistance, and comes five years after the World Health Organization’s similar reclassification in 2006. Many fiberglass insulation and manufactured wood products are now made with binders that do not contain added formaldehyde; consumers and specifiers wishing to avoid this VOC should seek third-party verification of such product claims.

Published June 14, 2011