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April 03, 2019

Chairwomen Johnson and Sherrill Question EPA Decision to Shift Formaldehyde Assessment from IRIS to TSCA

(Washington, DC) – Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairwoman Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler requesting a briefing on the decision to discontinue the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program’s assessment on formaldehyde. This comes after their March 20 announcement that formaldehyde will be assessed under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

“The formaldehyde assessment has been ready for public comment since at least the end of 2017, as confirmed by your predecessor, former Administrator Scott Pruitt, at a January 2018 Senate hearing.  Though the Agency has been successful in suppressing its release to the public, press reports indicate that the IRIS assessment concludes formaldehyde causes leukemia and other cancers. It is unacceptable that the EPA is hiding information on a probable carcinogen from the American people,” Chairwomen Johnson and Sherrill said in the letter.

They continued, “It is absurd that formaldehyde can simultaneously be a high-priority chemical under TSCA and not be a priority at all for IRIS. These processes are not mutually exclusive, nor do they serve the same purpose, and it is unacceptable that the agency is apparently treating them as such by discontinuing IRIS’s work.”

A copy of the full letter can be found here.


Formaldehyde is a chemical commonly used in building materials and in manufacturing many household products. A 1997 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report found that formaldehyde can be found at low levels in both indoor and outdoor air.

In 1985, the EPA created the IRIS program to develop toxicity assessments that measure the human health impacts of chemicals to which the general public could be exposed and to provide consistent evaluations of chemical toxicity across the Agency. IRIS assessments are considered by many stakeholders both within and outside of the EPA to be the “gold standard” for assessing the human health impact of chemical exposure. Within EPA, IRIS assessments are the preferred source of chemical toxicity values for program and regional offices.

IRIS’s formaldehyde assessment has been in need of an update for over 20 years. After a number of hurdles, the update was ready for public comment by the end of 2017.