The list of cancer-causing chemicals is growing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added eight substances to its Report on Carcinogens, a science-based document that identifies chemicals and biological agents that may put people at increased risk for cancer, a press release announced last week.

The industrial chemical formaldehyde and a botanical known as aristolochic acids are listed as known human carcinogens.

The Report on Carcinogens also lists six other substances – captafol, cobalt-tungsten carbide (in powder or hard metal form), certain inhalable glass wool fibers, o-nitrotoluene, riddelliine, and styrene – as substances that are reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.

With these additions, the 12th Report on Carcinogens now includes 240 listings.

“Reducing exposure to cancer-causing agents is something we all want, and the Report on Carcinogens provides important information on substances that pose a cancer risk,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of both the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). “The NTP is pleased to be able to compile this report.”

John Bucher, Ph.D., associate director of the NTP added, “This report underscores the critical connection between our nation’s health and what’s in our environment.”

A listing in the Report on Carcinogens does not by itself mean that a substance will cause cancer. Many factors, including the amount and duration of exposure, and an individual’s susceptibility to a substance, affect whether a person will develop cancer.

More about airborne substances that may cause cancer

Formaldehyde is one of the more common indoor air pollutants because it is used in many construction and renovation materials, including plywood, carpeting, paints, glues, textiles, woodworking and cabinet-making. Other sources include bath products, hair straightening treatments, cosmetics and personal care products. It is often found in paper product coatings and used as a preserving agent in labs and embalming, among others. Formaldehyde can have toxic, allergenic and carcinogenic effects.

Cobalt-tungsten carbide (in powder and hard metal form) showed limited evidence of lung cancer in workers involved in cobalt-tungsten carbide hard metal manufacturing. Cobalt-tungsten carbide is used to make cutting and grinding tools, dies, and wear-resistant products for a broad spectrum of industries, including oil and gas drilling, as well as mining. In the United States, cobalt-tungsten hard metals are commonly referred to as cemented or sintered carbides.

Certain inhalable glass wool fibers made the list based on experimental animal studies. Not all glass wool or man-made fibers were found to be carcinogenic. The specific glass wool fibers referred to in this report have been redefined from previous reports on carcinogens to include only those fibers that can enter the respiratory tract, are highly durable, and are biopersistent, meaning they remain in the lungs for long periods of time.

o-Nitrotoluene is used as an intermediate in the preparation of azo dyes and other dyes, including magenta and various sulfur dyes for cotton, wool, silk, leather, and paper. It is also used in preparing agricultural chemicals, rubber chemicals, pesticides, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and explosives. Workers are likely exposed to o-nitrotoluene through the skin or from breathing it during production and use. o-Nitrotoluene has also been detected in air and water near facilities that produce munitions, and near military training facilities.

Styrene is on the list based on human cancer studies, laboratory animal studies, and mechanistic scientific information. Styrene is a synthetic chemical used worldwide in the manufacture of products such as rubber, plastic, insulation, fiberglass, pipes, automobile parts, food containers, and carpet backing. People may be exposed to styrene by breathing indoor air that has styrene vapors from building materials, tobacco smoke, and other products. The greatest exposure to styrene in the general population is through cigarette smoking. Workers in certain occupations may potentially be exposed to much higher levels of styrene than the general population.

Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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