What are we learning about the relationship between environmental toxicants and cancer? How should our regulatory system respond to this information?
Molly Rauch, MPH
June 16, 2011
Last week the National
Toxicology Program, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services,
released its 12th Report on Carcinogens.
The release of the report made waves because it listed two substances not
previously recognized by the US government as being linked to the development
of cancer: formaldehyde (listed in the report as a known human carcinogen) and
styrene (listed as reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans). Formaldehyde
is used in construction materials, particle board, furniture, and as a
preservative, among other uses; styrene is used in insulation, auto parts, ink
cartridges, food packaging, and other products.
Report is a useful reminder that widely used substances, to which workers and
consumers are routinely exposed and which have been in the marketplace for
decades, are not necessarily safe. Indeed, in a context in which substances are
welcomed into commerce with no information about their potential to cause
cancer and other health problems, it is virtually inevitable that health
problems will be detected after chemicals are in widespread use.
The report is also an
important reminder of the power of a vested industry to influence science. The
report had been delayed for four years – largely due to industry pressure.
And while the report did list formaldehyde and styrene, what are the chemicals
that the National Toxicology Program decided to leave out? And how was that
Cancer is a
devastating, costly, and widespread disease. What are we learning about the
relationship between environmental toxicants and cancer? How should our
regulatory system respond to this information?
The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
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