WASHINGTON – On June 10, the US government added formaldehyde to a list of known carcinogens and warned that styrene might cause cancer in its 12th Report on Carcinogens (12th RoC) that was prepared for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Produced by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the study also added styrene to the list of substances that were reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.

But Cal Dooley, president and CEO, American Chemistry Council said ACC disagreed with both of these findings.

"We are extremely concerned that politics may have hijacked the scientific process and believe this report by HHS is an egregious contradiction to what the president said early in his administration, '...That science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my administration...'

“[The] report by HHS made unfounded classifications of both formaldehyde and styrene and will unnecessarily alarm consumers,” Dooley added. “The HHS designation on formaldehyde ignores the finding from the independent, government-mandated National Academy of Sciences report, which strongly questioned whether the scientific evidence supports a connection between formaldehyde and leukemia.

"Regarding styrene, it is important to note that today's report does not change FDA's approval of the safe use of polystyrene in food packing. Consumers can be confident that polystyrene products have been used safely for 50 years," he continued.

Formaldehyde is a simple chemical compound made of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, with the formula CH2O. Because of their versatility, formaldehyde-based technologies are used to produce a wide range of materials for residential construction, auto manufacturing, civilian and military aircraft equipment and health care applications. Products derived from formaldehyde have an extremely broad role in the economy, impacting the employment of 600,000 US workers and indirectly impacting an additional three million people, Dooley pointed out.

In addition to its use in making polystyrene, styrene is naturally present in foods such as strawberries, beef, beer and cinnamon and is naturally produced in processing wine and cheese, among other food and beverage products.

Dooley said to put its recent report in perspective, NTP states: "It is important to note that the reports do not present quantitative assessments of carcinogenic risk… Listing in the report does not establish that such substances present a risk to persons in their daily lives. Such formal risk assessments are the purview of the appropriate federal, state, and local health regulatory and research agencies." So, NTP has not concluded that formaldehyde, styrene or plastic foodservice packaging made with styrene present any risk to human health.

Based on scientific tests over 50 years, US government safety agencies determined polystyrene is safe for use in foodservice products. Polystyrene meets the stringent standards of the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission/European Food Safety Authority for use in packaging to store and serve food. A 12-member panel of international experts selected by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis reported in 2002 that the very low levels of styrene present in foods – whether naturally occurring or from polystyrene foodservice products – does not represent a concern to human health.