Environmental contaminants are leading to many more cancer cases than previously acknowledged, and should lead to a new, stronger federal approach to regulate such toxins, according to a new report to President Obama prepared by a panel of cancer experts.
“A growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases,” the report, released Thursday, says.
The report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, notes that about 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and roughly 21 percent will die from the disease.
“The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons,” says the report, based on four meetings of the President’s Cancer Panel, and testimony taken from 45 expert witnesses.
A non-profit organization working to eliminate the environmental causes of breast cancer seized on the findings, calling it a “watershed” report.
“The Panel levels a hefty critique of failed regulation of environmental contaminants, undue industry influence, and inadequate research and funding. It also says that the government—and institutions that advise the government—have been locked in a cancer-fighting paradigm that has failed to look at the complexity of cancer causation and, in so doing, have missed the opportunity to create a national campaign for cancer prevention,” says Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund.
“Release of this report is a historic opportunity to change the course of the war on cancer so that, in the face of the large and growing body of scientific evidence linking cancer to environmental contaminants, we act now rather than wait for more evidence of harm,” Rizzo adds. “This report says, in no uncertain terms, that the public needs to be protected from toxic chemicals—that we must execute a major cancer prevention strategy that protects people from what causes cancer.”
The report recommends a change in federal regulation toxins, which it says now is “reactionary rather than precautionary.” That a chemical is a “hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated” before steps are taken to deal with it, the report says.
“Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful,” the report says. “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.”
Obama and Congress should immediately take steps to address the report, Rizzo says. That includes enacting current legislation to take a tougher stand on toxic chemicals, and dealing specifically with the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has introduced a bill aimed at updating the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which the lawmaker calls antiquated.
Many have complained the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not go far enough earlier this year in warning the public about the toxicity of BPA.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.