Further revelations have come to light since the recent controversial expose in the New Yorker about Koch Industries, surrounding New York billionaire David Koch and his company’s involvement in the industry-led effort to downplay the links between formaldehyde and cancer.
In 2008, the president of one of Koch Industry’s subsidiaries sat as the Chair of a pro-Formaldehyde lobby group called the Formaldehyde Council. The subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, is also a long-time funder of the Formaldehyde Council.
Among other things, the Formaldehyde Council tried to downplay the negative health impacts of formaldehyde in trailers set up for victims of the Katrina disaster.
Prior to the recent media attention, the New York social elite knew David Koch mostly for his commendable charitable donations to groups like the American Ballet Theater and the American Museum of Natural History.
Learning that he, through his role as senior executive and Chairman of Koch Industries, also bankrolls far-right groups and causes that regularly question President Obama’s U.S. citizenship and deny climate science surely piqued their interest in Koch’s other side.
One baffling conflict mentioned by journalist Jane Mayer in her New Yorker article is David Koch’s generous funding of cancer research, while simultaneously his companies and their lobbying groups fight against federal efforts to regulate the known human carcinogen formaldehyde.
David Koch was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the early 1990s, and since then has become a major financier of cancer research, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to respected cancer research centers such as Sloan-Kettering, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, M.I.T. and Johns Hopkins University, as Mayer notes.
For his commendable charitable work, David Koch was appointed to the National Cancer Advisory Board,a committee of the US National Cancer Institute, in 2004 by President George W. Bush and remains a member today [pdf].
Our research has uncovered very strong ties between Georgia-Pacific, a company co-owned by David Koch through Koch Industries, and a political lobby group called the Formaldehyde Council that is involved in efforts to downplay the dangers posed by formaldehyde to human health.
Formaldehyde is classified as a “Group 1 Carcinogen” which is defined as an agent that “is definitely carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and “a complete carcinogen” in the words of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The National Toxicology Program also recently revised its characterization of formaldehyde to that of “known human carcinogen.”
But this determination by top scientists and researchers has not stopped Formaldehyde Council Inc. from trying to convince lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the links between Formaldehyde and cancer are highly overstated. Executive Director of the Formaldehyde Council, Betsy Natz recently wrote a letter to the President’s Panel on Cancer [pdf] arguing that:
“Despite today’s statement, scientists agree that formaldehyde does not pose a health risk at typical levels of exposure. Americans should feel confident in the knowledge that formaldehyde-based products are safe.”
On their website, the Formaldehyde Council tries to downplay the powerful carcinogen through slick key messaging like,
“the bottom line is that formaldehyde doesn’t stick around very long so it doesn’t accumulate in the human body or in the environment.”
In 2009, Natz tried to downplay concerns regarding dangerous levels of Formaldehyde detected in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers provided to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Natz told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that,
“Americans should feel confident in the knowledge that formaldehyde-based products, such as composite wood panels produced and certified to be low in emissions by domestic manufacturers, are safe.”
According to IRS filings [pdf], the Formaldehyde Council was formed in 1995 with the mission to,
“encourage accurate scientific evaluation of Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-based materials and to communicate sound scientific information relating to the uses, benefits and sustainability of these products.”
The Council’s operating budget in 2008 was $2.7 million and it reported $2 million in “membership dues and assessments.”
David Koch’s company, Georgia-Pacific, one of the largest manufacturers of Formaldehyde in the United States, is listed on the Formaldehyde Council’s website as a “member” since at least 2004.
In IRS filings for 2008, Richard Urschel, the President of Georgia-Pacific’s chemical division is listed as the Chair of the Formaldehyde Council. In 2006, Urschel served as the Council’s Vice-Chair. According to the Council’s stated by-laws only “Tier 1” members can have a place on the Board of Directors, and in order to become a Tier 1 member a company must pay $200,000 in annual dues to the Council.