Americans Continually Exposed to Carcinogens: Report

In a landmark report issued Thursday, the President’s Cancer Panel asserts that public health officials have “grossly underestimated” the likelihood that environmental contaminants trigger a large proportion of the cancers diagnosed in 1.5 million Americans annually.

“The grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program,” the panel told President Obama. “The American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”

"The panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase healthcare costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives." the panel said.

The panel’s findings are expected to intensify pressure on the chemical industry and its allies in Congress to endorse toxic chemicals policy reforms.

Last month, both the US House and Senate unveiled legislation to
overhaul the nation’s outdated chemical law, the Toxic Substances
Control Act. That law has been widely criticized for preventing EPA
from regulating even the small group of known human carcinogens, while
also failing to keep pace with more recent science. Though the bills
differ, each would require chemicals to be assessed for safety as a
condition of remaining on the market. Each would also enact a program
for “hot spots”- communities in the country that are especially hard-hit
by chemical pollution.

However, both pieces of legislation fall short of public health goals in three
critical areas, according to the group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF): 1) New chemicals would be allowed on the market without
having to be proven safe;  2) Action on the most dangerous chemicals,
persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals, is deferred; 3) Scientific
best practices recommended by the National Academy of Sciences to
modernize and improve the methods EPA uses to assess chemical safety,
are not incorporated.

Many of the policy recommendations issued by the President’s Cancer Panel align with principles of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. The report criticized current federal policy for allowing cancer-causing chemicals to proliferate in the marketplace and called for strengthening the chemical regulatory system in the U.S. The report found that agencies responsible for promulgating and enforcing regulations related to environmental exposures are “failing to carry out their responsibilities,” and recommended upgrading the system of environmental regulations to be “driven by science and free of political or industry influence” to protect public health.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. More than 1.5 million people were diagnosed with new cases of cancer in 2009. In 2008 the direct medical costs of cancer were $93.2 billion and the overall costs were $228.1 billion. Medical costs for pediatric cancers alone in 1997 totaled an estimated $3.9 billion.

Over the past two decades, the rates of some cancers rose significantly, including:

  • Kidney, liver, thyroid, esophageal and testicular cancer, as well as melanoma in men.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, melanoma and cancers of the thyroid, liver, and kidney in women.
  • Childhood cancers overall, especially childhood leukemia and brain cancer

The panel’s report is available at the link below.

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