Chemicals, Cancer, & Change

One of the most exciting reports I have ever read, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk – What We Can Do Now, was released this week by the President’s Cancer Panel, along with significant coverage by Nicholas Kristof in The NY Times, Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post and Liz Szabo in USA Today.

This signals a pivotal change in how we approach cancer (and, I hope, how we approach other illnesses that have increased in our lifetimes). The report acknowledges that we face “grievous harm” from chemicals that surround us every day and that we have “grossly underestimated” the amount of illness caused by these exposures – illness “that could have been prevented through appropriate national action.”

Why is this so exciting? By recognizing the importance of chemical and environmental causes of disease, we open the door to achievable environmental solutions. We can run in the right direction as we race toward prevention – not just race toward a cure. This report is about cancer – but the same issues apply to asthma, autism, learning disabilities, allergies, and more.

And it starts with kids. The report highlights the game-changing Environmental Working Group studies on umbilical cord blood that I helped EWG develop and release, where we found 180 carcinogens in babies (and 217 chemicals that were toxic to the brain or nervous system), even before the babies were born – chemicals that could set a trajectory for disease much later in life.

Parents can take simple steps right now to lower their children’s risk, from the cleaners you use in your home, to the plastics you use around food and beverages (watch our for BPA and phthalates!), to the sunscreens you put on your family’s skin.

In particular, the report highlights the value of organic food. There are ten foods (eleven, if you count wine) that I see as most important to choose organic.

And we can work together to change our chemical laws, under which the government has only assessed about 200 chemicals for safety out of the 80,000 chemicals on the market.

It’s a new era in our fight against cancer. It’s a new era for health.

Published on: May 07, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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