The Environmental Protection Agency's effort to adopt a new regulatory rule dramatically curbing the use of formaldehyde has drawn bipartisan questions from Capitol Hill.
The EPA has been working since 2010 to adopt a rule that would curb the use of formaldehyde, a chemical found in items such as furniture and clothing. Critics maintain it is linked to health problems ranging from asthma to cancer, according to The New York Times.
The current political debate stems from Hurricane Katrina, where displaced storm victims complained of burning eyes and respiratory problems which reportedly resulted from formaldehyde fumes leaking
into the air of the trailers used to house them.
Environmentalists pushed for government-imposed limits on formaldehyde use in building materials and furniture used in homes. But by 2008, only California had enacted such a regulation. Advocates stepped up pressure for federal action, and the EPA began working on toughened curbs on formaldehyde.
American companies who sell wood products have protested the proposed regulation, with groups like American Home Furnishings Association suggesting the EPA proposal would put over one million manufacturing jobs at risk.
It did not surprise veteran Congress-watchers when conservative Republican senators like Roger Wicker of Mississippi and David Vitter of Louisiana voiced opposition to the EPA proposal and called for major changes.
But when liberal Democrats like California Sen. Barbara Boxer also expressed concern, it raised eyebrows in Washington.
Boxer wanted to know why the EPA's proposed rule was more onerous than her home state's in regulating formaldehyde.
"We did not advocate an outcome, other than safety," her office told the Times. "We said, 'take a look to see if you have it right.' "
One reason for the bipartisan wariness about the EPA's proposed regulation was a sharply critical report issued in 2011 by a National Academy of Sciences panel
The panel, convened by the National Research Council (a part of the academy), concluded that a draft EPA assessment issued in 2010 failed to support its conclusion that formaldehyde causes asthma, leukemia, and respiratory cancers.
In its report, the panel sharply criticized the EPA's methodology and said the agency "overstated" its conclusion that formaldehyde damages the nervous system.
The National Academy of Sciences panel also questioned the EPA for linking formaldehyde to infertility in women, the Times reported.
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