Cross Posted at Earth Friendly Shopping
The President's Panel on cancer recently released a report calling for a fundamental rethinking of the way we approach cancer and the toxins in our lives.
Calling our current approach "reactionary" (wait until a chemical is proven harmful, and then work on cleanup and remediation.) the panel calls for a preventive approach. One that focuses on removing toxins from our lives, and replacing our current chemistry with a green chemistry.
They also call for a shift in regulatory processes, where instead of the burden being on regulators to prove a chemical hazardous, industry must prove it safe.
AND they make special note of the vulnerability of children to toxins.
Come over the jump and read more
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A little disclosure - My wife and I own a green eCommerce business where we sell some of the products discussed. We would clearly benefit from the approach advocated by the panel. I have links to some of our products in appropriate places in this post
We’ve been singing the praises of going organic for years. We sell organic snacks, (especially organic chocolate) and have recently added more organic body care. So, it was gratifying to see this new report from The President’s Cancer Panel titled their 2008-2009 annual report “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks – What we can do now” (PDF – 7.2MB) The report was based on the testimony of 45 experts gathered during 4 meetings held between 2008 and 2009. As Nicholas Kristof noted in his NY Times op-ed “it’s an extraordinary document.”
What makes this document so remarkable is that it calls for a fundamental rethinking in the way we approach reducing cancer risks. Historically, our approach to cancer has been “reactionary”. The focus has been on early detection and treatment of cancers. While there has been some success reducing the cancer mortality rate, cancer still extracts an enormous toll on society.
In 2009, nearly 1.5 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States, and an estimated 562,000 Americans will die from this disease.1 Approximately 41 percent of people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent of Americans will die from cancer.
The incidence of some cancers, including some common among children is increasing for “unexplained reasons”
The report is over 200 pages, and there are recommendations for individuals, for government policy, and for the scientific community. But what it boils down to is that we need to stop poisoning ourselves, and especially we need to stop poisoning our children.
The key recommendations
Switch from a “reactive” approach to a preventive approach
.. our current reactionary approach to cancer prevention, in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure, be replaced by a precautionary, prevention driven approach.
There are over 80,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. today. Only a few hundred have been tested for safety. Even in those cases, the testing really doesn’t emulate the type of exposure most common in the environment. The way chemicals are typically tested for safety, is by giving a test animal a lethal dose of the chemical. Doses are reduced on subsequent animal tests until negative effects are no longer detectable.
This dose, called the “no observed adverse effect level” (NOAEL), is considered the highest dose that poses an acceptable risk. The NOAEL is then adjusted for a series of safety factors to determine the final reference dose. Once the NOAEL is established for a substance, testing at lower doses is seldom conducted, and very low-dose effects are unlikely to be detected.
There are several problems with this method. 1st) It assumes that exposure happens in isolation, and that is rarely the case. Almost always we are exposed to a stew of different chemicals on a daily basis. 2)It assumes that exposure happens at one time, when most chemical exposures happen over long periods of time, such as in the daily use of a shampoo or other chemicals at work. 3)The animals tested are mostly mature, and there is little testing young animals, or prenatal. Yet the effect on children, newborns, or prenatals is dramatically different.
The panel makes the point repeatedly that children and prenatals are espeically at risk.
(children).. are at special risk due to their smaller body mass and rapid physical development, both of which magnify their vulnerability to known or suspected carcinogens, including radiation. Numerous environmental contaminants can cross the placental barrier; to a disturbing extent, babies are born “pre-polluted.”
Reduce the Toxins in Our Lives
Our modern industrial life style surrounds us with toxins. From solvents used as cleaners, to pesticides used in agriculture, to chemicals used in the found in common consumer products, we are constantly exposed to toxins.
The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition to pesticides, agricultural fertilizers and veterinary pharmaceuticals are major contributors to water pollution, both directly and as a result of chemical processes that form toxic by-products when these substances enter the water supply.
These toxins build up in our food supply, and ultimately our bodies. One example is bisphenol A (BPA), used to harden plastics and line food cans. BPA has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer. It is estimated that biologically active volume of BPA can be found in the urine of 93% of Americans.
Recommendations to reduce exposure to toxins include:
Storing and carryingwater in stainless steel, glass, or BPA- and phthalate-free containers will reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting and other chemicals that may leach into water from plastics. This action also will decrease the need for plastic bottles, the manufacture of which produces toxic by-products, and reduce the need to dispose of and recycle plastic bottles. Similarly, microwaving food and beverages in ceramic or glass instead of plastic containers will reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may leach into food when containers are heated.
Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues. Similarly, exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these medications if it is available.
Replace our current chemistry with a green chemistry
The panel discusses the need for a “green chemistry” the principles of which were defined more than a decade ago. Here are a few of the principles
Shift the burden of proof from regulators, who must prove a chemical harmful before cleanup can begin to industry being required to prove a chemical is safe before it can be put into use.
Weak laws and regulations, inefficient enforcement, regulatory complexity, and fragmented authority allow avoidable exposures to known or suspected cancer-causing and cancer-promoting agents to continue and proliferate in the workplace and the community. Existing regulations, and the exposure assessments on which they are based, are outdated in most cases, and many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated. Enforcement of most existing regulations is poor. In virtually all cases, regulations fail to take multiple exposures and exposure interactions into account. In addition, regulations for workplace environments are focused more on safety than on health. Industry has exploited regulatory weaknesses, such as government’s reactionary (rather than precautionary) approach to regulation. Likewise, industry has exploited government’s use of the flawed and grossly outdated Doll and Peto methodology for assessing “attributable fractions” of the cancer burden due to specific environmental exposures. This methodology has been used effectively by industry to justify introducing untested chemicals into the environment.
While this report is only (at best) a first step, it is still encouraging to see a main stream medical panel call so strongly for a prevention oriented, sustainable approach.
Let us hope that this report provides a foundation we can build on.