I decided years ago I wasn’t going to give money to cancer groups – not because they don’t do some good work, they do provide needed support to cancer patients – but because there is a gigantic medical-research complex that, to protect their own interests, have to pretend that the vast majority of cancers aren’t triggered by environmental toxins.

So I’m very surprised to read this Nicholas Kristof column in the Times, and predict that the panel of experts who headed this study will soon be demonized and marginalized for even suggesting such things:

The cancer panel is releasing a landmark 200-page report on Thursday, warning that our lackadaisical approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our health.

I’ve read an advance copy of the report, and it’s an extraordinary document. It calls on America to rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals.

Traditionally, we reduce cancer risks through regular doctor visits, self-examinations and screenings such as mammograms. The President’s Cancer Panel suggests other eye-opening steps as well, such as giving preference to organic food, checking radon levels in the home and microwaving food in glass containers rather than plastic.

In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that: “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’ ”

It’s striking that this report emerges not from the fringe but from the mission control of mainstream scientific and medical thinking, the President’s Cancer Panel. Established in 1971, this is a group of three distinguished experts who review America’s cancer program and report directly to the president.

One of the seats is now vacant, but the panel members who joined in this report are Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr., an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University, and Dr. Margaret Kripke, an immunologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Both were originally appointed to the panel by former President George W. Bush.

“We wanted to let people know that we’re concerned, and that they should be concerned,” Professor Leffall told me.

Those of us out here have been concerned for a very long time. But we need the federal government to take a leadership role. Here’s hoping there’s some strong follow-up on this.

The report blames weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary.

“Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says. It adds: “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.”

Industry may howl. The food industry has already been fighting legislation in the Senate backed by Dianne Feinstein of California that would ban bisphenol-A, commonly found in plastics and better known as BPA, from food and beverage containers.

8 thoughts on “Cancer

  1. Not to mention chemicals the cause birth defects and spontaneous abortions. You would think that the “right to life” people would be right on this, if they were really interested in life.

  2. A guest on WNYC recently, speaking about possible problems with plastic containers, said that she removes food from deli containers and stores it in glass containers in the refrigerator.

    I checked my kitchen and realized I wouldn’t have enough glass containers to manage that — for whatever reason (space? breakage?), my stock of glass storage containers has dwindled…and there are always new plastic ones coming in, some of which don’t have the identifying numbers. What’s with that?

    Some experts I’ve read or heard say never, never microwave in plastic, even the plastics for frozen microwavable foods. Surely must include those “convenient” new soup servings.

  3. I usually dump deli food into a microwavable glass dish and heat it up that way. I do the same thing with leftovers and cover them with aluminum foil.

    Some of the frozen microwavable foods are starting to use cardboard trays, which will now probably become the industry standard.

  4. Sorry I wasn’t more precise: The first graf, about storing deli food, is that it should not remain in the deli’s plastic containers while being stored in the frig. As in, buy some potato salad (I know, most is not all that good, but my store does have good tasting three potato salad), eat a little, store the rest for the next few days’ use — this expert rec’
    d storing it only in glass, don’t let it sit in plastic.

    Which says to me, don’t buy prepackaged deli-type items which may have been in the plastic for a considerable length of time. What about the sliced sandwich meats sold in plastic?

    Which raises the issue of canned goods which have been processed into plastic bottles. Thanks a lot, dressing manufacturers: acid and plastic? Good combination? eeeeek.

    So, time for some major adjustments. But it means I can toss the plastic containers I tend to save for future use.

    Also, what about things like Ziploc containers? Especially the extended use type. And plastic bags? Probably shouldn’t defrost in the microwave inside the plastic freezer bag….

    Lots of questions raised — few addressed.

  5. One of the nasty chemical dangers I know of right now is the effect of fire retardant chemicals on pets, especially cats. I recently came across an article about how our pet cats are now becoming our personal canaries in the coal mine, in this instance getting ill from ubiquitous chemicals in our homes.

    These probably affect developing infants and children a lot as well.

    This was first widely publicized in ’07, but I haven’t heard all that much about it since. A friend of mine has had two cats who have developed hyperthyroidism, one of the main problems for cats. My vet is watching my boy cat; then I have to decide if I can afford the expensive testing required on an ongoing basis and the quite pricey medicine. Oh, darn it. The chemical, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), has been shown to be a strong possibility for cats developoing hyperthyroidism.

    …evidence linking the disease to exposure to environmental contaminants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which the researchers found to be elevated in blood samples of hyperthyroid cats. Their findings were based on analysis of blood samples from 23 pet cats, 11 of which had the disease, termed feline hyperthyroidism (FH). PBDE levels in the hyperthyroid cats were three times as high as those in younger, non-hyperthyroid cats.

    Concerns about the possible health effects of PDBEs arose in the late 1990s, and studies have reported that PDBEs cause liver and nerve toxicity in animals. FH is one of the most common and deadly diseases in older cats, and indoor pets are thought to be most at-risk. For starters, cats ingest large amounts of PBDE-laden house dust that the researchers believe comes from consumer household products.

    Dye, a toxicologist, began by hypothesizing that prolonged contact with certain polyurethane foams and components of carpet padding, furniture and mattresses would pose the greatest hazard for developing FH. In addition, the researchers suspected that diet might be another risk factor for developing FH. To see if a link existed, they analyzed PBDE content in several cat food brands.

    Their analysis found that PBDE content of canned fish/seafood flavors, such as salmon and whitefish, was higher than dry or non-seafood canned items. Based on the analysis, they estimate that diets based on canned food could have PBDE levels 12 times as high as dry-food diets. The researchers indicate that pet cats might be receiving as much as 100 times greater dietary PBDE exposure than American adults.

    With their meticulous grooming behavior, cats may ingest large amounts of dust that collect on their fur. “Our results showed that cats are being consistently exposed to PBDEs,” Dye said. “Because they are endocrine-disrupting agents, cats may well be at increased risk for developing thyroid effects.”

    The danger of contracting feline hyperthyroidism might be greater in America, where people have the highest reported PBDE levels worldwide, the study said.

Comments are closed.