Toxic Talk and Labels

Formaldehyde (In your Skincare Products?) Strongly Linked with Leukemia and Blood-Cell Cancers

+ Pamela Friedman

” alt=”Nail polish bottle” width=”143″ height=”240″ />Remember that icky-smelling stuff that used to preserve the soon-to-be-dissected frogs in your junior high science class? Yep. Formaldehyde. We warned you about it showing up in nail polish in a former post. A colorless gas used to manufacture building materials, to serve as a preservative, and to make certain substances adhere to surfaces (as in nail hardeners and polishes), it made our “ingredients to avoid” list because of its reputation as a carcinogen. Just in case you weren’t convinced, here’s some more evidence for you!

A new study conducted by scientists from the National Cancer Institute followed 25,000 industrial workers in formaldehyde-producing plants for three decades, estimating the amount of formaldehyde each was exposed to while on the job. Workers with the highest exposures were 37% more likely to die from any blood or lymphatic cancer, and 78% more likely to die from myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells. Highly exposed workers were also nearly four times more likely to die of Hodgkin lymphoma. (Overall, the risk of cancer was low, causing only 319 of the 14,000 deaths during the study period.)

In 1995, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimated that approximately 2.1 million workers in the United States were exposed to formaldehyde. Professionals like lab technicians, mortuary employees, textile workers, and industrial workers who produce the chemical are exposed more than the rest of us. However, since the vapor or gas is easily released into the air, we all can come in contact with it through automobile emissions, pressed-wood products, cigarette smoke, gas stoves, kerosene heaters, and personal-care products. In March of this year, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) reported that most of the children’s bath products they tested were contaminated with the chemical. Insane, isn’t it? (Read our post on formaldehyde in baby products.) Even hurricane Katrina victims suffered respiratory ailments when exposed to formaldehyde in the trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to complete their risk assessment for the chemical, which would provide nationwide guidance on its danger to human health. The Formaldehyde Council, apparently, seeks further delays, pushing for a review by the National Academy of Sciences.

While government agencies take their time, what can you do to lower your risk? If you work in one of the aforementioned professions and you’re concerned, check your safety regulations on dealing with formaldehyde and strive to limit your exposure. In the home, keep rooms well ventilated, reduce humidity levels, and ask about formaldehyde content before purchasing pressed-wood products like cabinetry and furniture.

Finally, avoid nail polishes, nail hardeners, and bath products that may contain the chemical. Stick with organic brands from reputable companies like California Baby, Burt’s Bees, and Dr. Remedy. Again, this is why we all have to become our own authorities and read labels before purchasing any beauty, personal care, and baby products.

Has anyone in your family suffered from cancer as a possible result of formaldehyde exposure? Please share your story with us.

Photo courtesy of Snap Village.

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