Credo Action

President Obama: Time to get tough on environmental carcinogens

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Petition to President Obama:

"The federal government is failing to adequately protect us from toxics, chemicals and pollutants in our air, water, food, homes and workplaces, which are a largely unaddressed contributor to cancer. If you want to do everything in your power to cure cancer, it’s time to take steps to follow the 2010 recommendations of the President’s Cancer Panel, to get tough on environmental carcinogens."

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    President Obama: Time to get tough on environmental carcinogens

    In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama announced a “moonshot” effort to cure cancer. Cancer accounts for 1 in 4 of all deaths in the U.S., and at present rates,1 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 2 men, will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes.2 It’s hard to think of a more worthy goal.

    Finding new cancer breakthroughs won’t be easy, or cheap. Last week, President Obama proposed only an additional billion dollars in funding — an amount that, as noted in the New York Times, "may be better described as a cancer slingshot.”3

    But President Obama does have a tool to make important gains in this fight — if he's ready to do something he hasn’t been willing to do yet: Take steps to reverse our government's willingness to expose us to dangerous chemicals and pollutants in our air, water, food, homes and workplaces.

    The president has largely failed to act on the findings of a 2010 report entitled "Reducing the Environmental Cancer Risk" by the President’s Cancer Panel. The panel found that "the grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately"4 and called for major reforms in how we regulate them. The president can’t fight cancer without finally taking seriously these recommendations, and the harm caused by environmental carcinogens.

    Tell President Obama: Implement the recommendations of the President’s Cancer Panel to get tough on environmental carcinogens.

    Non-hereditary factors — covering everything from nutrition and physical activity, to carcinogens like tobacco smoke, toxics, chemicals and pollutants — account for an estimated 75 - 80 percent of cancer diagnosis and death.5 Smoking, diet and physical activity are understood to be the largest contributors, and so have appropriately been a major focus of cancer prevention efforts. While it is difficult to determine the exact significance of exposure to environmental carcinogens — due to the sheer volume of chemicals and pollutants we are exposed to on a daily basis, and their interactions with each other as well as known lifestyle factors — the President’s Cancer Panel reported that "the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated."

    What is clear is that our system of regulating dangerous chemicals is failing us. The President’s Cancer Panel found that "U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective" by factors including insufficient agency funds, weak regulations, inconsistent enforcement, and industry influence. Their report recommended a wholesale shift from our "reactionary" approach — which presumes chemicals are safe until definitively proven hazardous, and puts the burden of safety on the public, not industry — to a "precautionary, prevention-oriented approach."

    It is equally clear that the president has failed to heed these recommendations. Consider that:

    • Despite mounting scientific evidence of its link to numerous diseases, including cancer,6 the FDA continues to allow the use of the ubiquitous, endocrine-disrupting chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) in everything except baby products — as well as the use of untested replacement chemicals, which could be just as bad or worse.7
    • The EPA continues allowing oil and gas companies to engage in fracking — injecting a secret cocktail of toxic ingredients, including known carcinogens, thousands of feet underground, posing a massive and ill-understood risk of long-term groundwater contamination.8
    • The FDA continues allowing the use of toxic herbicides on farms and lawns, and continues issuing new approvals for crops genetically modified to withstand massive applications. This leads to dramatically increased use of herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup and Dow Chemical's Enlist Duo — which contains one of the main ingredients of Agent Orange — resulting is concentrated exposure to these chemicals for millions of agricultural workers, and exposure for the entire U.S. population.9
    • The FDA’s deputy commissioner in charge of food safety is Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto vice president. And to head the agency, President Obama has nominated "ultimate pharma insider" Dr. Robert Califf.10

    Tell President Obama: Implement the recommendations of the President’s Cancer Panel to get tough on environmental carcinogens.

    To his credit, the president has worked to make progress against some specific types of environmental carcinogens, like cutting down on air pollution from coal fired power plants, refineries and industrial facilities, although many of these rules remain tied up in the courts. And efforts to move regulations through Congress — like reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which has approved more than 80,000 chemicals that have never been fully tested — have been made essentially impossible by industry influence and Republican obstruction.

    But even with congressional gridlock, the president has tremendous power through his executive agencies to address some of the root problems of our failing system of chemical regulation and its role in the cancer burden — and cancer prevention.

    As noted by the President’s Cancer Panel: "It is more effective to prevent disease than to treat it," yet "Environmental health, including cancer risk, has been largely excluded from overall national policy on protecting and improving the health of Americans."

    It’s long past time to correct that failing. If President Obama is serious about curing cancer, he needs to get serious about reducing our exposure to the chemicals, toxics and pollutants playing a significant role in its cause.

    Tell President Obama: Implement the recommendations of the President’s Cancer Panel to get tough on environmental carcinogens.

    1. "Cancer Statistics," National Institute of Health
    2. "Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer," American Cancer Society
    3. "$1 Billion Planned for Cancer ‘Moonshot’," New York Times, 2/1/16
    4. "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk," The President's Cancer Panel, 4/10
    5. "Cancer and Toxic Chemicals," Physicians for Social Responsibility
    6. "EPA tosses aside safety data, says Dow pesticide for GMOs won't harm people," Chicago Tribune, 12/8/15
    7. "Hydraulic Fracturing 101," EarthWorks
    8. "Bisphenol A (BPA)," Breast Cancer Fund
    9. "BPA alternative disrupts normal brain-cell growth, is tied to hyperactivity, study says," Washington Post, 1/12/15
    10. "F.D.A. Nominee Califf’s Ties to Drug Makers Worry Some," New York Times, 9/19/15