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Friday, May 07, 2010

"New alarm bells on chemicals & cancer"

The President's Cancer Panel released their report this week and they were willing to be pretty bold, stating that chemicals threaten our bodies and asserting that our lackadaisical approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our health.

The panel calls on America to rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals. Nicholas Kristof's NY Times column sums up the report very nicely; here's an excerpt:

Traditionally, we reduce cancer risks through regular doctor visits, self-examinations and screenings such as mammograms. The President’s Cancer Panel suggests other eye-opening steps as well, such as giving preference to organic food, checking radon levels in the home and microwaving food in glass containers rather than plastic.

In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that: “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’ ”

. . . The report blames weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary.

“Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says. It adds: “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.”

. . . . The President’s Cancer Panel report will give a boost to Senator Feinstein’s efforts ban BPAs (bisphenol-A), commonly found in plastics, from food and beverage containers. It may also help the prospects of the Safe Chemicals Act, backed by Senator Frank Lautenberg and several colleagues, to improve the safety of chemicals on the market. [I saw Lautenberg on the news this week, saying he wants this bill to be his Congressional legacy.]

. . . One reason for concern is that some cancers are becoming more common, particularly in children. We don’t know why that is, but the proliferation of chemicals in water, foods, air and household products is widely suspected as a factor. I’m hoping the President’s Cancer Panel report will shine a stronger spotlight on environmental causes of health problems — not only cancer, but perhaps also diabetes, obesity and autism.

. . . Chemicals strike me as a bit like tobacco in the 1960’s: the evidence of danger was growing but not 100 percent conclusive, and regulators were painfully slow to act. What is changing now is that the mainstream medical establishment is embracing the concern that the fringe food and environmental movement has always had.



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