The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week released its 2024 draft risk evaluation for formaldehyde prepared under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

To develop this initial draft, the EPA reviewed the environmental fate and transport of formaldehyde, environmental releases, and exposures, as well as reasonably available environmental hazard data for aquatic and terrestrial organisms. The draft focused on the compound’s effects on water, land, and air. The Agency states that it does not seek to regulate these products at this time.

In water, they found formaldehyde does not persist due to its highly reactive nature.  Formaldehyde quickly hydrates in water to methylene glycol and can further transfer into other oligomers, a molecule made up of a few repeating united derived from smaller molecules with dissimilar structures from formaldehyde or methylene glycol. The EPA also found that formaldehyde toxicity is protective of transformation product toxicity to aquatic organisms, meaning the toxicity of formaldehyde is less harmful than its transformation products.

The Agency also found that formaldehyde will not persist on land. The compound reacts rapidly with soil particle surfaces and transforms into numerous other substances that the Agency states cannot be effectively characterized. Additionally, the report indicates that formaldehyde going through land into groundwater reacts similarly to surface water. The transformed properties on land are expected to be less toxic than the formaldehyde itself. Due to these factors, the EPA does not expect formaldehyde to persist in or on land, concluding it does not pose a risk to terrestrial organisms.

Additionally, because the evidence shows that formaldehyde does not persist in water or land, the Agency concludes that it does not bioaccumulate and is, thus, no risk to terrestrial organisms via dietary pathways.

Finally, EPA does find that formaldehyde can persist in the air with the caveat that it is subject to photolysis, where chemical compounds are broken down by protons, or other components in the air, including moisture. Ambient monitoring data used by the EPA found formaldehyde’s persistence in ambient air. Their environmental release databases also identify this as well. Because of this, EPA expects formaldehyde to persist in ambient air for short amounts of time, as formaldehyde has a half-life of 1-4 hours, per the report. However, in EPA’s models using the most sensitive reported toxicity value, they saw no indication of a risk to both plants and terrestrial animals.

The full docket can be found here and EPA’s draft can be found here. Anyone wishing to submit comments on the draft may do so on or before noon, May 3, 2024.