Factory workers who are routinely exposed to the industrial chemical formaldehyde may have an increased risk of leukemia and lung cancer, according to two large studies that followed U.S. and British factory workers for an extended period of time.
Formaldehyde is used extensively in the production of common items including photographic film, plywood, and wrinkle-free clothing. It is also used as an antimicrobial agent in cosmetics and as a fumigant in agriculture. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of formaldehyde has been associated with cancer of the nose in rats and mice. The association between formaldehyde and risk of cancer in humans has been less clear.
Michael Hauptmann, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, and his colleagues followed 25,619 U.S. factory workers and found that the relative risk of death from leukemia, particularly myeloid leukemia, and from Hodgkin's disease increased with increasing exposure to formaldehyde.
In a second study, David Coggon, D.M., of the Southampton General Hospital in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues followed 14,014 British factory workers and found that exposure to formaldehyde was possibly associated with a higher-than-expected number of deaths from lung cancer.
Despite these results, the authors of both studies caution against drawing definitive conclusions about the carcinogenicity of formaldehyde in humans.
Titles of additional articles appearing in the November 5 JNCI: