In June, the U.S. government published a report adding formaldehyde to a growing list of recognized carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances.
Most people associate formaldehyde with embalming the dead, and if that were its only use, it might be okay. But it isn’t. It is also used in makeup and cosmetics, and in the “engineered” wood (particle board, plywood, etc.) in your tabletop, furniture and flooring. It is even used in vaccines, not to mention antiseptics, medicines, dishwashing liquids, fabrics, fabric dyes, fabric softeners, shoe-care agents, carpet cleaners, glues and adhesives, lacquers, paper products and plastic.
Mix it with alcohol and you have formalin, or formic acid, the same toxin that bees and ants inject when they sting or bite. Create an artificial sugar called aspartame, and when it breaks down (into formaldehyde) it triggers a medical condition called metabolic acidosis, which mimics some of the symptoms associated with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Systemic lupus erythematosus (usually just called “lupus”). These include irregular or rapid heartbeat, numbness and tingling, slurred speech, lack of coordination, and mental confusion or cognitive difficulties.
Worse, because of its preservative properties, formaldehyde is routinely added to animal feed, and may even be added to human foods like Italian cheeses, dried foods, and smoked/dried fish. It also occurs naturally in some foods, though in significantly smaller amounts. Unfortunately, formaldehyde, like radiation, is cumulative. The greater the lifetime exposure, the more likely one is to develop one of the rare cancers associated with it.
Finally, add all these avenues of exposure to the almost unavoidable one – smog in outside and inside air created by the combustion of gasoline, tobacco, wood, and natural gas – and the cumulative total exposure of most people reaches alarming levels.
The report, prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), notes simply that enough studies on humans have been done to confirm formaldehyde’s carcinogenic profile, and thus its link to certain rare cancers of the nose, sinuses and throat, as well as myeloid leukemia.
The surprise is not that the DHHS supported the listing, but that it waited so long to do so. In Southeast Asia and some of the more industrialized areas of North Africa, nasopharyngeal cancers – once extremely rare – now account for up to 25 out of every 100,000 children. This is compared to a similar demographic in North America and Europe, where the incidence is 1 out of every 100,000, primarily among children of Asian or African descent; that is, those living in the poorest, most polluted areas of cities and states.
And it’s not as though we didn’t know the dangers. As early as 1983, the (U.S.) National Soft Drink Association voiced its objection to aspartame in carbonated beverages. That’s almost 30 years ago.
Given that kind of foot-dragging over a known cancer-causing agent, one wonders how long the DHHS will take to recognize the inherent dangers of nanotechnology.
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