Adding more fuel to the arguments of those calling for reform of chemical management in the U.S., a presidential panel says that environmental exposure to chemicals has been not adequately addressed and the nation needs a new comprehensive, cohesive policy agenda regarding environmental contaminants and protection of human health.
Existing estimates [of cancers that develop as a result of environmental exposures] are based on outdated science and significantly underestimate the actual influence of environment on cancer, said the President's Cancer Panel, which released its 2008-09 annual report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, on May 6.
Additionally, the report said, infants, children, and adolescents are especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants.
The current regulatory approach in the U.S. is reactionary rather than precautionary and is rendered ineffective by inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, weak laws and regulations, fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with decentralized and uneven enforce- ment, excessive regulatory complexity, and industry influence.
The report said that too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.
Industry has exploited regulatory weaknesses, such as government's reactionary (rather than precautionary) approach to regulation. Likewise, industry has exploited government's use of an outdated methodology for assessing 'attributable fractions' of the cancer burden due to specific environmental exposures. This methodology has been used effectively by industry to justify introducing untested chemicals into the environment.
The president's Cancer Panel report which assesses the U.S. National Cancer Program comes just three weeks after the first bills to reform how chemicals are regulated in the U.S. under the Toxic Substances Control Act were introduced, setting the stage for the development of a new approach to chemical management.
Under TSCA provisions the past 34 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has only been able to regulate five chemicals and require testing for roughly 200 of the estimated 80,000 chemicals in commerce.
The proposed reforms would require a minimum data set of use and exposure information for all chemicals, require EPA to assess chemical risks to a health-based safety standard and look at how chemicals impact sensitive subpopulations such as children and expectant mothers, and establish a framework for EPA to more quickly regulate chemicals identified as chemicals of concern.
The American Chemistry Council, based in Arlington, Va., has not yet reviewed the complete report. But, in an e-mail response to Plastics News, it said:
While we believe that TSCA has been protective of health and the environment, we believe that advances in science need to be leveraged in our regulatory structure. We have not had an opportunity to review the report. But we would like to point out that we support the National Children's study which addresses some of the questions about environmental causes of illness in children.
The President's Cancer Panel Report also said that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.
With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un-studied or understudied and largely unregulated exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread, the report said. Efforts to inform the public of such harmful exposures and how to prevent them must be increased.
The report specifically pointed out, as an example, concerns relative to the chemical bisphenol A, which is still found in many consumer products and remains unregulated in the United States, despite the growing link between BPA and several diseases, including various cancers.
While BPA has received considerable media coverage, said the report, the public remains unaware of many common environmental carcinogens such as naturally occurring radon and manufacturing and combustion byproducts such as formaldehyde and benzene. Most also are unaware that children are far more vulnerable to environmental toxins and radiation than adults.
Even though we may currently lack irrefutable proof of harm, the increasing number of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compels us to action, said LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., chairman of the President's panel and professor of surgery at Howard University College of Medicine.
The report said that the key issues impeding control of environmental cancer risks are limited research on environmental influences on cancer, conflicting or inadequate exposure measurement, assessment, and class- ification of chemicals, and ineffective regulation of environmental chemical and other hazardous exposures.
In addition, the report said that efforts to identify, quantify, and control environmental exposures that raise cancer risk, including both single agents and combinations of exposures, have been complicated by the use of different measures, exposure limits, assessment processes, and classification structures across agencies in the U.S. and among nations.
A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure, said the report.
The report said the U.S. should shift the burden of proving safety to manufacturers prior to new chemical approval and in renewal applications for chemical approval.
In addition, the panel called for:
* Increased and improved research regarding environmental contaminants and their effect on human health.
* The need to raise consumer awareness of environmental cancer risks and improve consumer understanding and reporting of known exposures.
* The need to increase awareness of environmental cancer risks and effects of exposure among health-care providers.
* Enhanced efforts to eliminate unnecessary radiation-emitting medical tests, and to ensure that radiation doses are as low as reasonably achievable without sacrificing quality.
* Aggressively addressing toxic environmental exposures caused by the military.
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