I normally focus on toxic chemicals and don’t comment on what the US Senate is doing. However, the actions of the Republican Senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, are a toxic outrage that’s setting back chemical safety on several fronts. He has blocked the appointment of a Yale green chemistry professor to be the EPA’s research director. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to have an infusion of green chemistry at EPA – where instead of being reactionary and scrambling to address old mistakes, the new focus would be precautionary, reformulating products to use less toxic and persistent chemicals. This could open doors of innovation to safer consumer products. However, Vitter feels that this mission is less important than his primary agenda – to keep his backers from the chemical industry happy. Could there be more blatant influence peddling?
And what do these interests want?
It actually boils down to a single chemical – formaldehyde. People in public health know of the strong irritant and carcinogenic effects of this gas. Embalmers got nasal cancer from it. It’s in a variety of consumer products, most notably, in cheap-pressed wood and particle-board furniture. The glue that holds the chipped wood together is formaldehyde-based and it off-gases slowly over time, leading to potentially toxic, allergenic and carcinogenic exposures.
Think FEMA/Katrina disaster in which thousands of homeless hurricane victims were placed into trailers that were off-gassing toxic levels of formaldehyde because of wall-to-wall cheap woodwork. To prevent this from happening again and to make sure the public isn’t overexposed from other sources, the EPA has a new formaldehyde risk assessment showing just how carcinogenic it is.
And that’s what Vitter and his benefactors object to. Vitter is holding back on the Yale professor appointment as a bargaining chip trying to force the EPA to farm the formaldehyde assessment out to the National Academy of Science for a 2-year review. Their hope is the classic “paralysis by analysis.” We already know enough about this chemical and don’t need another layer of review – Japan has already said no to formaldehyde-based wood, so has Europe and just recently, California. But the rest of us are getting this wood dumped on us (where else is China going to sell it) and it will continue to happen if Senator Vitter has his way. If the EPA doesn’t go along with Vitter, then it doesn’t get its new green chemistry guru.
The EPA shouldn’t be put in this situation and the Senate needs to reel in its most toxic member. Contact your senator to ask him to get involved in stopping this horse trade with our health.