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Report Sounds the Alarm About Chemicals and Cancer

Despite reassurances from manufacturers, consumers have become increasingly distrustful of chemicals in the products they buy. They’re reading labels, buying organic and all-natural foods, and campaigning against complex ingredients like bisphenol-A and high fructose corn syrup.

This isn’t a revelation, of course, but it’s an appropriate lead-in to today’s news: A report released today by the highly influential President’s Cancer Panel that supports the growing concern about these chemicals, arguing that their role in causing many types of cancer is grossly underestimated.

In fact, if I’m reading everything right, I’d call it a landmark medical endorsement of the organic movement.

In the 240-page report, the panel — which advises the National Cancer Program and, as its name implies, reports directly to the president — lays out a case for tightening regulation and providing education on the risks of chemicals like BPA. There are nearly 80,000 chemicals currently on the market, the report asserts, and only a small percentage have been adequately studied or regulated. Furthermore, the regulatory mindset that says a chemical is safe unless there’s clear evidence to the contrary, is a dangerous one, since modern science doesn’t account for all the ways in which these elements work.

“The increasing number of known or suspected carcinogens compels us to action, even though we may currently lack irrefutable proof of harm,” said LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D., chair of the panel, in a statement.

It’s estimated that 41% of all Americans will eventually be diagnosed with cancer, and that 21% will die from it. Although overall cancer rates are coming down, the report points out that certain types of cancer — particularly those affecting children — are on the rise. The panel points to air and water pollution, as well as radiation exposure via CT scans and X-rays in hospitals. More important to readers of this blog, it also raises flags about chemicals used in processing food. The authors recommend, among other things, that people filter their water; avoid containers and other products made using phthalates or BPA; avoid meats that are cooked well-done; and eat more foods grown without the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and growth hormones.

Now. This won’t change the industry, much less consumer perceptions, overnight. The panel will send regulatory recommendations along to the president, and from there who knows what tedious, winding paths they would have to take before coming to fruition.

But it could be a first step towards big changes, and certainly the most substantial acknowledgment of the organic and whole health movement to date.