In an alarming report released last week, the President’s Cancer Panel confirmed what many public health activists have been saying for years: Toxic chemicals in the air, water and in our food are literally killing us.
The advisory panel, which is affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, says that Americans are facing “grievous harm” from unregulated toxic chemicals in the environment.
About 1.5 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer and 562,000 died of the disease in 2009 alone. According to the report, “the incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons,” and exposure to chemical toxins may be to blame.
The 240-page report admonishes the U.S. government for taking a reactionary, rather than precautionary, approach to dealing with chemical threats, and calls for a new national strategy focused on minimizing the negative impact of such chemicals on human health. Under the current regulatory system, the government does not act until there is proof that a chemical is harmful, which means that Americans are exposed to many chemicals whose safety hasn’t yet been definitively established.
The report’s authors said in a letter to President Obama prefacing the report:
“With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread. One such ubiquitous chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is still found in many consumer products and remains unregulated in the United States, despite the growing link between BPA and several diseases, including various cancers.”
Many public health activists see the publication of this government report as a breakthrough for the environmental and organic movements in the U.S. They consider huge step in the right direction — one which will hopefully lead to a more precautionary approach to regulation of chemical use by the food, pharmaceutical and other industries. However, the report has drawn criticism from some who say that it portrays the risk of environmental hazards in an alarmist fashion. The American Cancer Society released an online reaction which criticized the report for being “unbalanced” and potentially even doing a disservice to the public by diverting attention from modifiable lifestyle risk factors, like smoking and obesity.
The panel says that while more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of exposure to toxic chemicals, they firmly believe that the “true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” And, they strongly urge individuals to take precautionary measures to minimize exposure to toxins while we wait for more research to be done and new policy enacted.
Here is some of the advice the report offers:
- Buy organic produce, or produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, when possible.
- Buy antibiotic and hormone-free meats, and avoid processed, charred and well-done meats.
- Store water and food in containers that are free of BPA and phthalates, and don’t microwave food in plastic containers.
- Filter your drinking water.
- Avoid using products that contain potentially hazardous chemicals in your home. (You can look up the potential hazards of such items in the Household Products Database.)
- If you are exposed to chemicals while you are on the job, remove your shoes when you enter your home, and wash your work clothes separately from other laundry.
- Check the radon levels in your home. (Radon is a natural source of radiation which has been linked to cancer.)