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21 August 2012

United States and Australia acknowledge formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans

Safe Work Australia, a government statutory agency, has changed formaldehyde's carcinogen classification from category 3 (limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect) to category 2 (may cause cancer by inhalation), basing its decision on a 2006 assessment by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (Nicnas).

This change in classification follows updates to formaldehyde’s listing by other world agencies including the United States’ National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, which named formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen in its 12th Report on Carcinogens. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has also classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen (group 1).

Currently, formaldehyde is considered by the European regulations as a "suspected carcinogen", according to the criteria in the 2008 European CLP regulation on the classification and labelling of chemicals. In September 2010, on behalf of the French authorities, a proposal to revise formaldehyde's classification in order to place it in a more stringent category at European level was submitted to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), the agency in charge of managing the technical, scientific and administrative aspects of the REACH regulation.

If formaldehyde were recognised at European level as a proven carcinogen to humans, it would be subject to stricter regulatory measures, in particular the obligation to set up stronger prevention measures for occupational use and primarily its substitution wherever possible.

Formaldehyde has come under increased public scrutiny in recent years and is commonly found in the indoor environment due to its use in construction materials, building furnishings and some consumer products. Formaldehyde can cause both short and long term health concerns.

Sources:, Anses
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