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Louisiana Senator’s Block on EPA Nominee|Tracks Desires of Formaldehyde Industry

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Even as the International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that sufficient evidence exists to link formaldehyde with leukemia, Senator David Vitter, R-La., continued to block a nomination to the EPA in what environmentalists call an attempt to delay establishment of national formaldehyde safety standards. Vitter put a hold on the nomination of Paul Anastas, a Yale chemist, to a job at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Anastas is director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale, where he holds joint appointments in chemistry, chemical engineering and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His research focuses on the design of safer chemicals and chemical processes to replace the use of hazardous substances.The Obama administration has appointed him to the EPA post of assistant administrator of research and development.

Vitter's hold does not directly attack Anastas. The senator says he wants the EPA to allow the National Academy of Sciences to review EPA findings on formaldehyde toxicity before issuing formaldehyde standards.

Environmentalists say any NAS study would favor formaldehyde producers because it would be based on reports issued by the industry and its supporters. And the study could take as long as 2 years, delaying regulation of formaldehyde-containing materials.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified formaldehyde as a "known human carcinogen" in 2004. The EPA considers it a "probable human carcinogen," and links the chemical to nasal, lung and brain cancer and leukemia.

A spokesman for Vitter explained the senator's hold on Anastas in a September interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune: "Because of the FEMA trailer debacle, we need to get absolutely reliable information to the public about formaldehyde risk as soon as possible," the spokesman said. "That's why Sen. Vitter started working with a bipartisan group over a year ago to have the National Academy of Sciences weigh in."

Manufacturers of trailers that FEMA provided to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita face class action complaints from thousands of Gulf Coast residents who say they were injured by formaldehyde fumes that leaked from the trailers.

Vitter's position on formaldehyde tracks that of the Formaldehyde Council, a trade group of formaldehyde producers, many of whom are among the top contributors to Vitter's 2009 re-election fund. At least two National Academy of Sciences sponsors also contributed to Vitter's campaign; one of them is a Formaldehyde Council (FCI) member. lists AT&T as one of Vitter's top five 2005-2010 campaign. DuPont also is an FCI member.

Many of Vitter's 2009 re-election contributors are among the top formaldehyde emitters. The senator received $9,000 from Dow Chemical's political action committee, $5,000 from Monsanto's, $4,000 from Exxon-Mobil's, and $2,500 from the American Forest and Paper Association's, according to FEC Records.

Dow, Exxon, and Monsanto are all among the top formaldehyde polluters in the state, EPA data show.

Dow and the American Forest and Paper Association are both members of FCI.

Though IARC is the most prestigious world authority on cancer risk assessment, the EPA has a history of creating and adhering to its own assessments on chemical toxicity in relation to cancer.

Vitter is up for re-election on Nov. 14.

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