Griffith corrects claim that formaldehyde doesn't cause cancer

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, has been a relentless critic of the EPA.
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, has been a relentless critic of the EPA.

A few minutes on the web this week convinced us that U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, was flat wrong.

Griffith, in  a June 10 written statement, railed against  a decision by an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to list formaldehyde as a carcinogen.

Formaldehyde is an industrial chemical used to produce a wide range of building materials and household products. Griffith said its listing as as carcinogen was "not based on sound science" and could cost about 600 jobs in his Southwest Virginia district.

To buttress his claim, Griffith cited an April 2011 report by the National Academy of Science that examined the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 draft findings that formaldehyde is a carcinogen.

"The NAS (National Academy of Sciences) disagreed with the EPA’s finding that formaldehyde causes cancer," said Griffith, an outspoken critic of the EPA.  

Looking into Griffith’s claim, we quickly found the NAS study he cited as well as a news release from the organization summarizing its findings.

"The report finds that the evidence is sufficient for EPA to conclude that formaldehyde exposures are a cause of cancers of the nose, nasal cavity, and upper throat," the NAS release said.  "However, the draft assessment has not adequately supported its conclusions that formaldehyde causes other cancers of the respiratory tract, leukemia or several other non-cancer health outcomes."

So in reality, NAS the report found the EPA had enough evidence to link formaldehyde to some types of cancers but not others.

We called Griffith’s office on Monday and left a message seeking an explanation of the congressman’s assertion.

Within an hour, we heard from Kelly Lungren McCollum, Griffith’s chief of staff, who acknowledged her boss’s statement was wrong.

She said there had been an error while putting together the statement and that Griffith’s should have referenced leukemia - not all cancer.

Griffith quickly released a corrected written statement. "The NAS disagreed with the EPA’s finding that formaldehyde causes leukemia," he said.

We should point out that the NAS report doesn’t outright dispute that formaldehyde causes leukemia. What the NAS found is that the EPA hadn’t proved its assertion that that’s the case.

And Griffith’s revised statement hardly offers a balanced assessment of the NAS findings. While trumpeting formaldehyde’s questionable link to leukemia, Griffith makes no mention that report confirmed EPA findings that exposure to the chemical causes cancer in the nose and upper throat.

Since entering Congress in January, Griffith has made two other claims about the EPA that fared poorly on the Truth-O-Meter.

Because he quickly corrected his statement this time, we decided to spare him another Truth-O-Meter rating.



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