Formaldehyde causes cancer. Architects and environmental activists have known this for a long time, which is why the indoor air quality portion of LEED requires us to use materials that do not include added formaldehyde. Yesterday, the federal government’s National Toxicology Program finally confirmed this fact in their latest Report on Carcinogens.
The report had been delayed for at least four years by corporate pressure, which should not surprise anyone. The problem for us is that this delay, along with the foolish waste of money on lobbyists – instead of spending the same money on scientists and engineers working on replacements for formaldehyde – means that formaldehyde-free plywood is both expensive and difficult to obtain in South Florida. The plywood we'll use in our cabinetry costs three times what we would pay for conventional, carcinogenic plywood, which puts healthy plywood out of the reach of the vast majority of Americans.
Far worse than the inconvenience to us, then, is the fact that American homes are filled with carcinogen-laced materials. That “new home smell” kills. And the people who sell this stuff have known this for a long time.
The Report on Carcinogens also lists two other common construction materials, styrene (often used in bathtubs) and glass fibers (like those used in batt insulation). These are two classes of materials we’ve worked hard to avoid using in tin box. But, again, these materials are so widely used that it is impossible to avoid exposure to them in everyday life.