Dirty Energy & Fuel formaldehyde

Published on December 3rd, 2013 | by Don Lieber

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Formaldehyde — #5 In "Top 10 Toxic Ingredients Used By The Fossil Fuel Industries" Series

December 3rd, 2013 by

This is part of a 10-part series on the “Top 10 Toxic Ingredients Used By The Fossil Fuel Industries.” Read, share, and check in tomorrow for the next part, which will focus on pet coke.

5. Formaldehyde

formaldehydeFossil Fuel Source: Natural Gas

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen with known links to leukemia and rare nasopharyngeall cancers, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Formaldehyde is highly toxic regardless of method of intake. It is a potent allergen and genotoxin. Studies have linked spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, low birth weights, infertility, and endometriosis to formaldehyde exposure. Epidemiological studies link exposure to formaldehyde to DNA alteration. It is also contributes to ground-level ozone.

Formaldehyde is commonly used in “fracking” — although, the industry does not report the details of its use.

In 2006, the fracking industry was granted waivers from federal clean air and water regulations (known as “The Halliburton Loophole”) — since then, it has operated with few, if any, reporting requirements regarding the chemicals it uses. (The waiver was promoted by the Bush-Cheney White House; Cheney, of course, was the former CEO of Halliburton).

Independent studies, however, have detected dangerous levels of formaldehyde in both wastewater and ambient air emissions from fracking operations. One researcher, with the Houston Advanced Research Center, said reading from one test site in north Texas, “astoundingly high,” and, “I’ve never heard of ambient (formaldehyde) concentrations that high… except in Brazil.”

The designation of formaldehyde as a dangerous ingredient in fossil fuel production has been vigorously contested by both the fossil fuel industry and by the members of the US Congress who receive huge funds from the industry.

In 2009, Koch Industries, one of the nation’s largest fossil fuel companies, lobbied against the EPA’s proposed declaration that formaldehyde “should be treated as [a] known human carcinogen.” The largest recipients of oil and gas industry contributions in the US Congress, including Senators James Inhofe and David Vitter, also lobbied extensively against the designation.

Vitter, indeed, accepts money directly from the formaldehyde industry. According to Talking Points Memo, his election campaign received about $20,500 in 2009  from companies that produce large amounts of formaldehyde waste in Louisiana. His preferences for the people of Louisiana are clear, and they aren’t the avoidance of cancer.

Note From The Author

There are many reasons to reject fossil fuels now, after 200 years of their reign as society’s primary energy source.

History will articulate both the benefits provided to human society derived from fossil fuel energy technologies from 1750 to the present — and the extensive costs.

In addition to transportation, electricity, industrial power, military, and medical applications; fossil fuel technologies are also a core element behind war, political unrest, human rights abuses, extreme and permanent environmental degradation, and human disease.

Perhaps the most important historical legacy of fossil fuels, however, will be their collective role as the chief protagonist behind what may be the most urgent long-term global crisis in human history: greenhouse gas–induced climate change.

It is my hope that this list, focusing on immediate public health risks (apart from climate change), serves as an adjunct to the myriad other reasons to end the use of fossil fuels — all of them — completely.

The ten ‘ingredients’ listed in this article are not intended as an exclusive list. The major fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) each use hundreds, if not thousands, of chemicals — often not disclosed — many of which are highly dangerous to human health. Attempting a comprehensive list of all the harmful chemicals used willingly by the oil, coal, and gas industries would be far beyond the scope of this blog series.

This article, rather, represents some of the more commonly cited toxic ingredients in the public literature; a ‘starting point’ in reviewing the overall public health dangers inherent across the spectrum in all three major fossil fuel extraction industries: oil, coal, and natural gas.

Don Lieber
New York City
November 2013

Image Credit: formaldehyde via Shutterstock

Stay tuned for the remaining 4 of the top 10 toxic ingredients used by the fossil fuel industries.

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About the Author

Don Lieber has written extensively on international human rights, war and disarmament, and climate justice. His writings have have been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, DeSmog Blog, E-The Environmental Magazine, and others. He is a frequent contributor to PlanetSave. When not writing about climate change, he plays bass for the NYC-based band "Wifey".



  • Sherrie

    After reading this articIe, then a bit more research, I wrote a Ietter to Sen Vitter, wondering what he has to say abut his stupid[ paraphrased] deniaI; [Twisted IittIe version of my current fave “activist” activity, aka IegisIative advocacy ] More important = demand reaI accountabiIity from our policymakers across the board- and see who’s mobiIizing, when & where– Very empowering, even if “onIy” participating onIine; ExceIIent exampIe: For weeks, there has been a petition/comment opp onIine , from Move0n.org re Do NOT Lift New York’s Ban on LNG Infrastructure. It got nearly 5000 signatures
    –to be hand-delivered tom’w, December 4 to Governor Cuomo and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation–

  • Sherrie

    After reading this articIe, then a bit more research, I wrote a Ietter to Sen Vitter, wondering what he has to say abut his stupid[ paraphrased] deniaI; [Twisted IittIe version of my current fave “activist” activity, aka IegisIative advocacy ] More important = demand reaI accountabiIity from our policymakers across the board- and see who’s mobiIizing, when & where– Very empowering, even if “onIy” participating onIine; ExceIIent exampIe: For weeks, there has been a petition/comment opp onIine , from Move0n.org re Do NOT Lift New York’s Ban on LNG Infrastructure. It got nearly 5000 signatures
    –to be hand-delivered tom’w, December 4 to Governor Cuomo and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation–

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