Environmental cancer risks are huge

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On Thursday, May 6, the president’s Cancer Panel released the results of its two year investigation into “the impact of environmental factors on cancer risk.”

The 240-page report did not mince words: “The nation still has much work to identify… and eliminate carcinogens… from our workplaces, schools, and homes.”

The examination focused on key areas such as “…industrial, occupational, and agricultural exposures as well as exposures related to medical practice, military activities, modern lifestyles and natural causes.”

The panel, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008, offered its overarching point in one hammer blow: “[T]he true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.”

From the report

A sampling of facts gleaned from the report (link opens .pdf) show:

—- Although cancer incidence and deaths are falling, 41 out of every 100 Americans “will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancers.”

—- Some cancers, “including some most common among children,” continue to increase “for unexplained reasons.”

—- “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals. Many of these chemicals are known or suspected of having either carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties.”

—- “Chemical exposure levels of agricultural families (and in some cases, other rural residents) tend to be higher than the general population… [T]hese substances often are introduced into the home on shoes and clothing, and when work clothes are washed with other family laundry.”

—- “Pesticide levels in carpet dust in the homes of agricultural workers and non-farming families can be 10- to 200-fold higher than levels in the air outside the same home, increasing exposure risk to children who… crawl and play directly on the carpet.”

—- The Agriculture Health Study that now tracks 89,000 men, women and children in the “agricultural population,” shows that “Farmers and pesticide applicators have significantly higher prostate cancer risk, and female spouses have a significantly higher incidence of melanoma.”

—- “Nearly 1,400 pesticides have been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Approximately 40 chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens, are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market.”

—- “An average of 18 new pesticides are introduced every year. In the aggregate, the registered pesticides contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the inert ingredients in pesticides also are toxic, but are not required to be tested.”

What can be done

None of these facts, the report makes clear, are meant to condemn our chemical-dependent lifestyles. Instead, it “urges” the president to “use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air…”

At the same time, “[I]ndividual small actions can drastically reduce the number and levels of environmental contaminants,” the panel notes.

It suggests simple, mostly cheap actions like filtering tap water, storing and microwaving food in glass containers, removing shoes before entering the home and washing “work clothes separately from other family laundry.”

And, it recommends, “…choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues. Similarly… eating free-range meat raised without medications if it is available.”

Affects us all

Want to debate those latter panel suggestions? Great, get the facts and get going because cancer doesn’t care if you’re a farmer or a factory worker, a man or a woman, a Republican or Democrat.

Nor should we. We should, however, agree that we can — like the panel urges — “strongly support environmental cancer research and measures that will reduce or remove from the environment toxins that are known or suspected carcinogens or endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

2 Comments

  1. mary gibson says:

    As usual Alan Guebert is right on target, I do hope Farm Bureau listens to him.

  2. Americans are being “bombarded” with chemicals, gases and radiation that can cause cancer everyday!
    This is just insane….

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