US Cancer Institute issues stark warning on environmental cancer risk

| 17th May 2010
We may be  underestimating the risk of exposure to chemicals
We may be underestimating the risk of exposure to chemicals

We are underestimating the risk of exposure to everyday chemicals, says US cancer body

A leading US research body has said the range of confirmed or suspected carcinogens to which we are exposed on a daily basis is cause for serious concern, but UK campaign groups refuse to change their views

The link between exposure to everyday chemicals and cancer risk has been 'grossly underestimated' according to the National Cancer Institute in the US.

The Institute, which advises the US President, has previously focused on better-known causes of cancer such as diet and smoking.

However, its latest report, published this month, urges the US Administration to identify and eliminate environmental carcinogens from workplaces, schools and homes. It estimates there are nearly 80,000 'largely unregulated' chemicals on the market.

The report lists a variety of carcinogenic compounds that many people are regularly exposed to in their daily lives, including benzene and other petroleum-based pollutants in vehicle exhaust, arsenic in water supplies, chromium from plating, formaldehyde in kitchen cabinets and other plywood, bisphenol A in plastics and canned foods and tetrachloroethylene at dry cleaners.

It said bisphenol A (BPA) in particular had been linked to several diseases, including various cancers, but was still unregulated in the US and is found in many consumer products.

'With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action,' concluded the report.

UK campaign groups not convinced

UK cancer researchers said there was still a lack of evidence about most environmental risks.

'There is clear evidence that some things in our environment can cause cancer, including second-hand smoke, ultraviolet radiation, asbestos, radon gas and various industrial chemicals. But for many other potential risks, the evidence of the health harms in humans is still inconsistent,' said Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research UK

'For example, the evidence that bisphenol A could affect the risk of breast cancer in humans is limited although studies in animals or cell cultures have raised some concerns.

Yong said until the evidence became clearer, Cancer Research UK would focus its efforts on promoting established ways of reducing the risk of cancer.

Useful links

President's Cancer Panel report

What is the health impact of air pollution?
After the Clean Air Acts banished the smogs of the 50s and 60s, many thought that air pollution problems had disappeared. They were wrong
Cancer and pesticides: victims fight for justice
After long battles, three farmers in France have won legal claims that their cases of cancer and Parkinson's disease were caused by working with pesticides. Now they want to help others fight similar cases
Ecologist guide to detox
It's easy to dismiss 'detox' as a fad, as some product claims are exaggerated. But detoxing, as a practice, has been around for centuries
Cancer drug: the other use for mistletoe
Mistletoe is not just for kissing under. In some European countries the plant is a respected and widely used treatment for cancer. Will it catch on in the UK?
How long until health foods become illegal?
A huge number of UK citizens take food supplements or buy health food products, yet new legislation threatens to either remove these items from our shelves, restrict their dosages or ban them from making any health claims

More from this author