Cancer panel sounds alarm on exposure to chemicals

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post / May 7, 2010

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WASHINGTON — An expert panel that advises the president on cancer said yesterday that Americans are facing “grievous harm’’ from chemicals in the air, food, and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored.

The President’s Cancer Panel called for a new national strategy that focuses on such threats in the environment and workplace. It called those dangers “underestimated.’’

“With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action,’’ the panel wrote in a report that was released yesterday.

Currently, federal chemical laws are weak, funding is inadequate, and regulatory responsibilities are split among too many agencies, the panel found.

Children are particularly vulnerable because of their smaller bodies and fast physical development, the panel found.

The report noted rising rates of cancer in children, and it referred to recent studies that have found industrial chemicals in umbilical-cord blood, which supplies nutrients to developing fetuses.

“To a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted,’ ’’ the panel wrote, adding that health officials lack critical knowledge about the chemicals’ effect on fetuses and children.

In addition, the government’s standards for safe chemical exposure in the workplace are outdated, it said.