Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

President’s Panel Issues a Call to Action on Chemicals

For anyone still in doubt about the need to tighten up the nation’s sad-sack system for protecting the public from hazardous chemicals, last week’s report (May 7) of the President’s Cancer Panel should provide serious food for thought.

In a sharp break from the standard line of the American Cancer Society and many other authorities that environmental exposures are not a major risk factor for cancer, the three-member panel concluded in unequivocal terms that these risks have been greatly “grossly underestimated.” (Or as George W. Bush would say, “misunderestimated.” The former president appointed two of the panel’s experts; a third seat is vacant.)

Coming as both houses of Congress begin work on long-overdue legislation that would replace the ineffective, three-decade old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the 240-page report speaks directly to the reasons why reform is essential. For a government document, moreover, it speaks with refreshing clarity and sense of purpose.

Like this statement on children:

It is vitally important to recognize that children are far more susceptible to damage from environmental carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting compounds than adults.

Or this on the chemical industry:

Industry has exploited government’s use of an outdated methodology for assessing … the cancer burden due to specific environmental exposures. This methodology has been used effectively by industry to justify introducing untested chemicals into the environment.

Or this on the historic trivialization of environmental cancer risk:

The Panel was particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.

But what impressed me most was the Panel’s willingness to at least try to make a difference in the real world.  Its number one recommendation was:

A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure.

…this approach should be the cornerstone of a new national cancer prevention strategy…

The proposed Kid Safe Chemicals Act introduced in the 110th Congress, or similar legislation, has the potential to be an important first step toward a precautionary chemicals management policy and regulatory approach to reducing environmental cancer risk.

The House “discussion draft” and the already-introduced companion bill in the Senate both meet these criteria. They are very similar to the proposals advanced by Environmental Working Group’s Kid Safe Chemicals campaign, and they both would overturn the current reactionary approach to environmental contaminants. That’s the approach that says someone must be harmed or put at substantial risk before government takes action to protect people.

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4 Responses to “President’s Panel Issues a Call to Action on Chemicals”

  1. Mamo Gra says:

    The Panel’s report also said this: “Each person can become an active voice in his or her own community. To a greater extent than many realize, individuals have the power to affect public policy by letting policymakers know that they strongly support environmental cancer research”

    My 11 year old daughter is being treated for OVARIAN cancer, which I believe is the likely result of endocrine disruptors in the environment. The Panel talked at length about the issue.

    I promised my daughter I would fight for change, but I can’t do it alone; I NEED help! Many, many cancers ARE PREVENTABLE, as was made clear in the report. PLEASE take 2 minutes to sign this petition compeling President Obama to implement the recommendations made by the Panel, we CAN make a difference!

    Thanks to everyone at EWG for all your hard work!

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Dear Mamo, We’re so sorry to hear about your daughter’s illness. Thank you for your support and for lending your voice to this important issue.

      • Mamo Gra says:

        Thank you so much for your kind words. I am honored that you would take time from your busy day to respond to a complete newbie to this type of activism.

        My admiration of EWG began several years ago with the Farm Subsidy Database and the old “Mulch” blog (AgMag). Both were very useful when an ethanol plant attempted to become my neighbor. I rather enjoyed the shock-and-awe effect in a big meeting when I stated out loud which farmers were getting big subsidies:) After that I was hooked on all things EWG. I used to believe that it was enough to educate myself, purchase the right food, etc. But now I know we all MUST work to change public policy. I have never initiated a petition before, but I feel the time is right and it may be the best way to show Washington the insanity MUST stop.
        After many months of in depth research, I feel it is very likely that my daughter’s germ cell tumor was the result of endocrine disruptors in the environment. (I can almost speak medical-ese now;-)
        Words cannot describe how it feels to know this did not have to happen to my daughter. My dedication to this issue will be life-long because that’s how long she will live with the consequences of her cancer. We can’t undo what has happened to her, but we can work hard to protect future generations. Knowing what I now know, I wouldn’t sleep well if I didn’t do all I could to CHANGE it.

        It is my sincere hope that 1 million people will put their signature where their heart is. Please rest assured that if you or anyone at EWG believes in our cause enough to sign our petition, you may do so anonymously or publicly. Either way I fully understand it is in no way to be construed as an endorsement. As I said, I am new at this, so I hope it was appropriate to post a link to our petition here. I am trying to reach people who will support our mission.

        PS My real name is used on the petition, but I prefer not to use it on public forums. Mamó is an Irish word meaning “young granny” (its what my grandson calls me) Gra is an Irish word for Love

      • Elaine Shannon says:

        Dear Mamo,
        Thanks again. Mulch is still around. In fact it has expanded. It has a new name: AgMag — for Online Agriculture Magazine. You can find it at: And I think you’ll be surprised and interested by the content. We’re broadening out further, into food. stay tuned.