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Cross-posted at

Last October, I wrote about freshman Senator Amy Klobuchar's bill to regulate formaldehyde emissions from engineered wood panels. These are the panels used to build our homes, our desks and other furniture and that are ubiquitous throughout our lives, often unnoticed. Shop at any Office Max, Ikea, or discount furniture store and you'll be surrounded by things made from medium density fiberboard (MDF) and particleboard.

Last week, with little fanfare or notice, President Obama signed Senator Klobuchar's bill into law. And to add to the magnitude of this Dem-Win, the EPA declared formaldehyde to be a carcinogen, paving the way to further action from this governmental body.

More on these most-awesome, under-the-radar regulatory wins for Democrats, Senator Klobuchar and President Obama after the fold.

NOTE: I'm reprinting some of the information from my previous diary, "The Politics of Formaldehyde: As goes Calif., so goes the U.S." because it contains a lot of useful background information.

After Hurricane Katrina, tens of thousands of families from Louisiana and Mississippi, displaced by the storm that destroyed their homes, were placed in trailers provided by the federal government. Almost immediately calls began to come in to FEMA complaining about breathing problems and other maladies as a result of staying in the trailers.

It turns out the building materials in the trailers, primarily the carpeting and, even more so, the wood paneling, were emitting formaldehyde at up to 400 times the legal limits. As usual, there was a government cover-up to downplay the negative health impacts of formaldehyde, a known cancer suspect agent and highly toxic gas.

There are now FEMA trailers at various places across the country, being sold for pennies on the dollar. In President Clinton's hometown of Hope, AR, they have close to 20,000 of them in storage:

More photos HERE.

Democratic Senator, Amy Klobuchar, proceeded to write a bill to make sure this NEVER happens again and to ensure the safety of ALL Americans when it comes to formaldehyde in their homes.

Several years ago, the state of California, through the California Air Resources Board (CARB), announced that it was moving toward new regulations dramatically limiting the emissions of formaldehyde by wood composites and engineered wood panels used in the manufacture of housing. The companies making the formaldehyde-emitting resins shrieked. The wood composites manufacturers freaked. An advertising blitz downplaying the problem was immediately launched. But, in the end, CARB prevailed and in 2007 they passed the new legislation. Phase One went into effect January 1st of this year and Phase Two which lowers allowable emission rates follows in 2011.

Because the California market is so huge and because they generally lead the way on health and environmental legislation, manufacturers of the types of materials that are polluting the Katrina trailers have had to make big changes across the board (no pun intended.) In other words, they don't just make a product for California because it's not practical. They've changed ALL of their operations. The resin companies have responded (despite all their complaining beforehand) by reformulating their resins to contain scavengers that prevent formaldehyde emissions, another example of regulatory efforts forcing innovation that likely wouldn't have occurred otherwise.

Senator Klobuchar's bill closely emulated the CARB legislation, effectively making the California law a national one.

Earlier this month, on July 7th, President Obama signed Senator Klobuchar's bill into law.

But that's not all.

In my previous diary, I also mentioned that the Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) was also getting involved and had been holding hearings and receiving comments on the regulation of formaldehyde emissions. On June 2nd, the EPA released a "draft human health assessment for formaldehyde that focuses on evaluating the potential toxicity of inhalation exposures to this chemical".

The EPA has concluded that formaldehyde is carcinogenic when inhaled by humans. Public concern about the substance grew dramatically in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when many people living in FEMA trailers after the storm reported respiratory and other health problems from prolonged exposure to formaldehyde.

"There is sufficient evidence of a causal relationship between formaldehyde exposure and cancers of the upper respiratory tracts, with the strongest evidence for nasopharyngeal and sino-nasal cancers," the draft assessment made public on Wednesday concludes. "There is also sufficient evidence of a causal association between formaldehyde exposure and lymphohematopoietic cancers, with the strongest evidence of Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia, particularly myleloid leukemia.

From the EPA's website:

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release for independent peer review and public comment a draft human health assessment for formaldehyde that focuses on evaluating the potential toxicity of inhalation exposures to this chemical. Formaldehyde is widely used and can be found in many consumer products.

This assessment will help EPA and others to determine the level of risk it poses to Americans’ health. EPA undertook this assessment because there have been a number of potentially significant new studies published since EPA's last review of formaldehyde toxicity.

EPA’s draft formaldehyde assessment will be reviewed by an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences. EPA will consider all public comments on its draft and will use the guidance from the National Academy of Sciences as it completes its IRIS Health Assessment for Formaldehyde.

EPA will accept written comments on the draft assessment for 90 days after it appears in the Federal Register on June 2.

The next step, according to the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) website is:

Concluding the public review and comment period, public listening session, and NAS independent scientific peer review, the draft Toxicological Review will be revised and will then be submitted for a final Internal EPA review and an EPA-led Interagency Science Discussion. As a last step, the final assessment will be posted on the IRIS database.

If listed as a carcinogen by the USEPA, further regulatory action will result.

So here we have an example of major regulatory and legislative victories for Democrats.

Under the radar? -- yes.

Done without great fanfare? -- yes.

Making our country a better place for Americans through appropriate and reasonable regulation? -- absolutely, positively yes.

I'm just sayin'...
P.S. in my previous diary I also mentioned that Senator David Vitter had put a hold on the nomination of Paul Anastas to be the EPA's assistant administrator in charge of its Office of Research and Development simply because of his stance on formaldehyde regulation:

This rulemaking is in progress but it has become as political football. Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter is blocking the appointment of Paul Anastas to a position as EPA's assistant administrator in charge of its Office of Research and Development. Anastas is known as the "Father of Green Chemistry" and is a superb choice for this position. However, Vitter wants the EPA to study formaldehyde more. What's that? A Republican Senator using delay tactics to prevent sensible consumer protection? What. Are. The. Odds???

   After his nomination back in May, a key Senate panel easily approved Anastas in July. But now, Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter is blocking Anastas' nomination because he wants the EPA to submit to a review of its formaldehyde risk assessment by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS). [...]

   The agency disagrees with Vitter's position and believes additional research is unnecessary. 'The research has been done and we are ready to move forward,' states agency spokesperson Adora Andy. The concern is that an NAS study could delay resolution and action on formaldehyde toxicity.

This has finally changed and Dr. Anastas is now the EPA's assistant administrator in charge of its Office of Research and Development. Although he was nominated in May 2009 by President Obama, it took until this year for him to be installed in the position when, last December, the EPA conceded to Vitter's demand that the National Academy of Sciences serve the peer review body for its full formaldehyde toxicity assessment.

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Originally posted to Eclectablog - eclectic blogging for a better tomorrow on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 08:26 AM PDT.

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