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Cancer Panel: Chemicals 'Grossly Underestimated' as Carcinogens

4 years ago
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Just as we're once again treated to the sight of volunteers scrubbing oil off wildfowl (ah, memories), along comes the President's Cancer Panel report that says we're being polluted to death.

And I quote: The "true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated." According to the report, "more than 80,000 chemicals are in use, and 1,000-2,000 new chemicals are created and introduced into the environment each year." Only a few hundred have been tested for safety.

Says The Washington Post, "The current system places the burden on the government to prove that a chemical is unsafe before it can be removed from the market. The standards are so high, the government has been unable to ban chemicals such as asbestos, a widely recognized carcinogen that is prohibited in many other countries."

WaPo goes on to quote Ken Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group, which is pushing for legislation to restrict chemicals that pollute human bloodstreams: "Many of these chemicals are believed to be time bombs, altering the genetic-level switching mechanisms that lead to cancerous cellular growth in later life."

The Center for Public Integrity, too, weighed in on the President's Cancer Panel report:
Richard Clapp, a professor of environmental health at Boston University, said the significance of the report cannot be overstated. "For the President's Cancer Panel to take as strong a position as it has on both occupational and environmental causes of cancer is unprecedented," Clapp said. The report comes on the heels of legislation in the Senate and the House to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), widely considered to be ineffective.
And then there's the oh-so-predictable response of the American Cancer Society. Toxic chemicals? Weak laws? Lax regulation? Influence of industry lobbyists?

Oh no, says ACS spokesperson Dr. Michael J. Thun. "Cancer is a very important disease, pollution is a very important problem, but it's not clear how much the degree of overlap is."

Dr. Thun explains:
Unfortunately, the perspective of the report is unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer, and by its dismissal of cancer prevention efforts aimed at the major known causes of cancer (tobacco, obesity, alcohol, infections, hormones, sunlight) as "focused narrowly."
But that's nothing new. Reports from the President's Cancer Panel, founded by the National Cancer Act in 1971, are supposed to be narrowly focused. Previous titles have included "Promoting Healthy Lifestyles" (just two years ago, Dr. Thun, so maybe people remember?) and "Facing Cancer in Indian Country."

A surgeon on scienceblogs.com put it this way: "This year, the President's Cancer Panel report was designed to focus on one aspect of cancer, namely environmental influences on cancer. As such, of course it emphasized -- oh, you know -- environmental influences on cancer."

Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group e-mailed to Politics Daily this rebuttal to American Cancer Society's response:
The ACS provides cover to polluters by attacking the Panel's report. The American Cancer Society has a long history of trivializing the environmental causes of cancer, at significant cost to public health. The Society's position is particularly unfortunate because it slows progress toward cancer prevention that will ultimately save lives. Instead of attacking the Panel report and fighting efforts to strengthen public protections from environmental carcinogens, the ACS should take the lead in research and policies that prevent these exposures.
Matthew Zachary, young adult survivor and founder/CEO at the I'm Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation, e-mailed this reply: "The American Cancer Society is living in a bubble if they believe that traditional cancer prevention practices are the only thing out there that matters when it comes to reducing death and suffering due to a cancer diagnosis -- especially for the next generation of patients and survivors."

Far from looking for confirmation of preconceived notions, Truthout reports that the President's Cancer Panel began with a wholly different frame of reference.
According to Jeanne Rizzo, president of the Breast Cancer Fund, the panel started its investigation thinking the connection between cancer and environmental exposures might have been exaggerated by public fears and activist pressure. But [panel members Dr. Leffall and Dr. Kripke] developed a "voracious appetite" and reviewed 450 research reports and other documents linking environmental exposures with cancer, Rizzo said. "When you delve into the science literature, it quickly becomes persuasive," added Julia Brody, director of the Silent Spring Institute.
As tempting as it is to blame cancer patients for their plights and as tempting as it is to believe that you can prevent a complicated, incurable, often savage disease simply by assuming a yoga pose, smiling more often and eating organic carrots, I urge readers to muster their courage and take a look at the facts.

There ain't no cancer force field. Monitor the environment, and the life you save could be your own. Or, more likely, the lives of your children.

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