A dire government report on cancer risks from chemicals and other hazards in the environment has drawn criticism from the American Cancer Society, which says government experts are overstating their case.
The government’s 240-page report, published online Thursday by the President’s Cancer Panel, says the proportion of cancer cases caused by environmental exposures has been “grossly underestimated.” It warns of “grievous harm” from chemicals and other hazards, and cites “a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer.”
Children are especially vulnerable, the panel says. It urges the government to strengthen research and regulation, and advises individuals on ways to limit exposure to potential threats, including pesticides, industrial chemicals, medical X-rays, vehicle exhaust, plastic food containers and too much sun.
A cover letter urges President Barack Obama “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 health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”
Nearly 80,000 chemicals are in use in the United States, and yet only a few hundred have been tested for safety, the report notes. It criticizes the nation’s regulatory approach, calling it reactionary rather than precautionary, which means that the government waits for proof of harm before taking action, instead of taking preventive steps when there is uncertainty about a chemical. Regulation is ineffective, the panel says, in part because of inadequate staffing and financing, overly complex rules, weak laws, uneven enforcement and undue industry influence.
The report looks at contaminants from a variety of sources: industry, agriculture, air and water, medical imaging and contaminated military sites. It also considers natural hazards, like radon gas in homes and arsenic in drinking water. The report concludes, “At this time, we do not know how much environmental exposures influence cancer risk.”