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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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What are we learning about the relationship between environmental toxicants and cancer? How should our regulatory system respond to this information?

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on 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.

The 12th 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 decision made?

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.


Convenience at What Cost: The Connection Between Chemicals and Breast Cancer
Nancy Buermeyer and Connie Engel, PhD

Environmental and Occupational Toxicants and Cancer
Richard Clapp, DSc MPH

Prenatal Origins of Cancer and Endocrine Disruptors
Theo Colborn, PhD

Asleep at the Wheel of the War on Cancer

Samuel S. Epstein, MD

Cancer Disparities: An Environmental Justice Issue for Policy Makers
Robin E. Johnson, MD MPH

Time to Heed the Evidence
Sean Palfrey, MD

Is Make-A-Wish All We Have to Offer? Perinatal Prevention of Childhood Cancers
Joanne L. Perron, MD FACOG


Daniela Kunz said ..

If a Superintendent does not know what the word Carcinogen means - he is not qualified for sure to be in charge of that job. Mindboggling.

August 21, 2011
Children's Environmental Protection Alliance (Children's EPA) said ..

As a victim and a witness to children injured by carcinogens - thank you for this article. I became founder of Children's EPA after I was seriously and permanently injured while teaching in Mississippi. I was prevented from protecting the children. An expose of the cover up revealed why - the chemicals involved had killed and injured half a million people in Bhopal India. Some of the chemicals in the spray on foam roofing and sealant were methyl isocyanate, toluene diisocyanate, benzene and xylene. The school superintendent's response was that he did not know the meaning of "carcinogen."

August 19, 2011
Barbara King said ..

Thank you for your informed article

June 19, 2011

Comments closed.