Washington, D.C. – In a landmark report issued today, the President's Cancer Panel asserts that public health officials have "grossly underestimated" the likelihood that environmental contaminants trigger a large proportion of the cancers diagnosed in 1.5 million Americans annually.
"The grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program," the panel told President Obama. "The American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures."
"The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons," the panel said.
"There are far too many known and suspected cancer-causing chemicals in products people, young and old, use every day of their lives," said Kenneth A. Cook, president and co-founder of Environmental Working Group (EWG). "Tests of umbilical cord blood are proof positive that American children are being exposed to hundreds of carcinogenic chemicals before they are born. 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."
In groundbreaking studies of cord blood in 2005 and 2009, EWG found a total of 201 known and suspected carcinogens in 20 babies. In a series of 11 research studies of the human body burden, from newborns to elderly people, EWG has detected up to 493 chemicals in people.
"As this prestigious group's report underscores, the federal government has failed to take aggressive action to protect people from chemicals that cause cancer," Cook said. "The tide is shifting, thanks to irrefutable scientific research and a strengthening of political will in Washington."
The panel's findings are expected to intensify pressure on the chemical industry and its allies in Congress to endorse toxic chemicals policy reforms proposed in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, and being drafted in the House by Reps. Bobby Rush, D-IL, and Henry Waxman, D-CA.
Richard Wiles, EWG co-founder and Senior Vice President for Policy and Communications, was one of 47 experts who testified before the panel. According to the report (p. 54), Wiles charged that EPA typically compromises water pollution standards because making the environment truly safe is too expensive. The agency, said Wiles, "allows a certain amount of risk as a trade-off for cleaning up the water... I think our public policies need to be revisited because we're trading disease for costs probably unnecessarily."
"Consumers can't wait for the government to take action or for companies to act responsibly by removing carcinogens from their products," Cook said. "Today, EWG is issuing a number of tips so that people can immediately and dramatically reduce their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals."
Preventing Cancer: Nine Practical Tips for Consumers
Four of every 10 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, and two of every 10 will die of it. But there are some things you can do to reduce the risk. First, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that are known to make a difference – stopping smoking, reducing drinking, losing weight, exercising and eating right.
But according to a new report from the President's Cancer Panel, environmental toxins also play a significant and under-recognized role in cancer, causing "grievous harm" to untold numbers of people. Environmental Working Group's own research has found that children are born "pre-polluted" with up to 200 industrial chemicals, pesticides and contaminants that have been found to cause cancer in lab studies or in people.
Here are some simple things you can do to reduce your exposures:
- Filter your tap water. Common carcinogens in tap water include arsenic, chromium, and chemical byproducts that form when water is disinfected. A simple carbon filter or pitcher can help reduce the levels of some of these contaminants. If your water is polluted with arsenic or chromium, a reverse osmosis filter will help. Learn about your tap water and home water filters at EWG's National Tap Water Database. https://www.ewg.org/tap-water
- Seal outdoor wooden decks and play sets. Those built before 2005 are likely coated with an arsenic pesticide that can stick to hands and clothing. Learn more at www.ewg.org/reports/allhandsondeck
- Cut down on stain- and grease-proofing chemicals. "Fluorochemicals" related to Teflon and Scotchgard are used in stain repellents on carpets and couches and in greaseproof coatings for packaged and fast foods. Some of these chemicals cause cancer in lab studies. To avoid them, skip greasy packaged foods and say no to optional stain treatments in the home. Download EWG's Guide to PFCs here: https://www.ewg.org/Health-Tips
- Stay safe in the sun. More than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. To protect your skin from the sun's cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) radiation, seek shade, wear protective clothing and use a safe and effective sunscreen from EWG's sunscreen database. https://www.ewg.org/whichsunscreensarebest/2009report
- Cut down on fatty meat and high-fat dairy products. Long-lasting cancer-causing pollutants like dioxins and PCBs accumulate in the food chain and concentrate in animal fat.
- Eat EWG's Clean 15. Many pesticides have been linked to cancer. Eating from EWG's Clean 15 list of the least contaminated fruits and vegetables will help cut your pesticide exposures. (And for EWG's Dirty Dozen, buy organic.) Learn more at EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. http://www.foodnews.org
- Cut your exposures to BPA. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic estrogen found in some hard plastic water bottles, canned infant formula, and canned foods. It may increase the risk of reproductive system cancers. To avoid it, eat fewer canned foods, breast feed your baby or use powdered formula, and choose water bottles free of BPA. More at https://www.ewg.org/bpa/tipstoavoidbpa
- Avoid carcinogens in cosmetics. Use EWG's Skin Deep cosmetic database (www.cosmeticdatabase.com) to find products free of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer. When you're shopping, don't buy products that list ingredients with "PEG" or "-eth" in their name.
- Read the warnings. Some products list warnings of cancer risks – read the label before you buy. Californians will see a "Proposition 65" warning label on products that contain chemicals the state has identified as cancer-causing.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. https://www.ewg.org