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Carcinogenicity of Formaldehyde Affirmed by National Academy of Sciences Panel

Formaldehyde molecule with examples of products that contain it: formalin preservative, pressed wood, and melamine dishes.

Formaldehyde, which is often found in plastic plates, formalin (used as a preservative), and plywood, among other products, is classified as a human carcinogen. 

An independent panel of scientists from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has affirmed the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 2011 classification of formaldehyde as a “known human carcinogen” in its 12th Report of Carcinogens (RoC). The NAS report on formaldehyde carcinogenicity was published August 8, 2014.

In 2012, Congress mandated an NAS review of the NTP’s evaluation of formaldehyde and for NAS to conduct a separate comprehensive assessment of the peer-reviewed scientific literature on formaldehyde exposure. The panel took into consideration all relevant studies and reviews of formaldehyde, including human, animal, and mechanistic studies published before and after the 2011 RoC through November 2013.

They concluded there was “clear and convincing epidemiologic evidence to support the association of formaldehyde and nasopharyngeal cancer, sinonasal cancer, and myeloid leukemia in humans”. Panel members judged the strength of the evidence based on epidemiologic study design and exposure assessment methods.

Several DCEG studies were relied upon in the reviews, reflecting the Division’s seminal research among populations exposed to formaldehyde, particularly studies of workers with occupational exposure, led by investigators in the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch. To read more about DCEG’s research on formaldehyde, go to http://dceg.cancer.gov/research/what-we-study/environment/dceg-research-formaldehyde-exposure.