Widespread exposure to environmental toxins poses a serious threat to Americans, causing "grievous harm" that government agencies have not adequately addressed, according to a strongly worded report released today by the President's Cancer Panel, a body of experts that reports directly to President Obama.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 6% of cancer deaths — nearly 34,000 a year — are caused by environmental pollutants.
That number could be much higher, the new report says. Although the report doesn't give a figure, it says the government has "grossly underestimated" the problem because of a lack of research. Much of the suffering faced by people diagnosed with toxin-related cancer "could have been prevented through appropriate national action," according to the 240-page report.
The report urges the Obama administration to act, even if the evidence linking cancer and chemicals isn't definitive. Nearly 80,000 chemicals are used in the country today, many of which are unstudied and "largely unregulated," the report says.
Children appear to be especially vulnerable, the report says.
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The report was produced by cancer specialists LaSalle Lefall and Margaret Kripke, both of whom were appointed by President Bush and who heard from dozens of experts over the past two years. The panel's third position is vacant.
Reaction to the report was mixed.
Jeanne Rizzo, president of the Breast Cancer Fund, an environmental advocacy group, said the report was "a watershed that could transform federal policy not just on cancer, but on chemicals."
The American Cancer Society's Michael Thun called the report "unbalanced" because he said it implied pollution is a major cause of cancer and dismissed prevention efforts. The report "restates hypotheses as if they were established facts," Thun said in a statement. "It reflects one side of a scientific debate that has continued for almost 30 years." Thun said he hopes the report won't confuse Americans about the clearest ways to prevent cancer, such as through healthier living. The American Cancer Society says smoking alone causes far more deaths — more than 168,000 every year.
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