In December 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated formaldehyde, along with 19 other chemicals, as a high priority chemical substance under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA requires the EPA to conduct a risk assessment of each high priority substance to determine whether a particular use of the substance may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment. In April 2020, the EPA issued its proposed scope for the formaldehyde risk assessment, specifically stating that the agency plans to evaluate the use of formaldehyde in embalming.
To protect the use of formaldehyde in funeral service, NFDA recently submitted comments to the EPA explaining the significance of formaldehyde to funeral service. NFDA made it clear that formaldehyde-based embalming products are the leading products used for embalming in the United States. Further, we explained that there is no dependable product with both preservative and antimicrobial properties. For this reason, NFDA asked EPA to remove funeral service from the formaldehyde risk assessment that EPA will be conducting.
Formaldehyde has been widely studied and is widely used in many applications outside of funeral service. So, it is not surprising that EPA’s proposed TSCA formaldehyde risk assessment produced broad interest. There were 200 comments, an unusually large number, that trade associations, industry and environmental groups, made to the EPA.
The EPA is now required to consider each comment and make a final decision on the appropriate scope of the formaldehyde risk assessment. The June 22 statutory deadline for EPA completing the scope has now passed. EPA has said that it will address the scope of the formaldehyde risk assessment “soon,” although EPA must issue final scopes simultaneously for 29 other chemicals.
If a risk assessment concludes that a particular use of formaldehyde is hazardous to health or the environment, the EPA then must consider whether to require management controls to address the risk it found. If the EPA determines that formaldehyde exposure during embalming presents a risk to the health of embalmers or to the environment, the EPA would seek to impose restrictions on embalming with formaldehyde, such as requiring engineering controls, for example, ventilation, obtaining a permit with specific requirements, or using a lower concentration of formaldehyde. Such restrictions would likely interfere with the way embalming is currently practiced.
NFDA will continue to advocate for funeral service’s unrestricted use of formaldehyde. Funeral directors should continue to employ the formaldehyde best management practices that NFDA issued more than ten years ago and to use personal protective equipment and engineering controls according to OSHA standards. Find NFDA’s best management practices for formaldehyde here.
If you have any questions about the EPA’s process, please contact NFDA Senior Vice President of Advocacy Lesley Witter, firstname.lastname@example.org.