Industrial workers who are exposed to the chemical formaldehyde may have a significantly higher risk of dying from blood and lymphatic cancers, U.S. government researchers said on Tuesday.
A study of more than 25,000 workers at industrial plants that produced formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin found workers with the highest exposures had a 37 percent increased risk of death compared to those with the lowest exposure levels, they reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
They said exposure to the chemical raised the risk of several specific cancers, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and myeloid leukemia - the type most often associated with chemical exposure.
The formaldehyde industry disputed the study’s findings.
Since the 1980s, researchers at the National Cancer Institute have been studying cancer deaths among the workers, who were employed at 10 industrial plants before 1966 that used formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin to make molded-plastic products, decorative laminates, photographic film or plywood.
In a previous report from this study, which included data on cancer deaths through 1994, researchers showed that the risk of death from leukemias, and myeloid leukemia in particular, increased with higher levels of formaldehyde exposure.
In this report, which includes an average follow-up of over 40 years, the risk of death from myeloid leukemia was 78 percent higher among industrial workers with the highest peak exposures compared to those with the lowest peak exposures.
Excess risks of death from myeloid leukemia have also been reported among pathologists, embalmers, and other professionals who experience high-intensity peak exposures to formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is widely used for industrial purposes and as a preservative and disinfectant. 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.
The Formaldehyde Council, a trade association, said in a statement that the scientific data the report was based upon did not “support the inferences put forth by the authors, who admit that their study proved no definitive link to cancers of the blood and bone marrow.”
The council said it repeated its support for a full scientific review of the health effects of formaldehyde by the National Academy of Sciences, as proposed by a U.S. congressional recommendation in 2008.