Cancer Caused by Toxic Chemicals 'Grossly Underestimated' in U.S.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable form of cancer. It is almost always caused by inhaling tiny asbestos fibers, which pass through the lungs and become embedded in the mesothelium, a thin layer of tissue that surrounds the internal organs.
Some man-made chemicals also cause cancer, just as surely as asbestos does. In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel reported that the amount of environmentally induced cancer in the U.S. has been “grossly underestimated.” And that is definitely bad news. The good news is that the number of cancer cases linked to chemical exposures and the resulting billions of dollars in health care expenditures could be significantly reduced if Congress were to pass legislation to fundamentally change the way toxic substances are approved for use.
Since 2005, legislation has been introduced in every Congress to force chemical companies to safety test their products and prove that they won’t cause harm before they end up as ingredients in items that fill our homes, schools and places of work. But Congress hasn’t passed any of those proposals.
There has been relatively little support in either the House or Senate for revamping the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, which for nearly 40 years has allowed industry to flood the marketplace with untested and noxious chemicals, including many that cause cancer. Neither the chemical industry nor a single Republican in Congress has ever supported previous reform proposals put forth (mostly) by the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey and a pillar of public health protection.
All Lautenberg’s earlier bills had a very important element: no chemical would be allowed into commerce unless industry could show that there was a reasonable certainty that the substance would cause no harm to the environment or people, particularly children. And the bills wouldn’t have applied only to new chemicals. As important as it is to bar new toxic chemicals from coming on the market, it’s also essential to assess the tens of thousands of substances already in use to ensure with reasonable certainty that they, too, aren’t harmful. Getting that job done would obviously reduce everyone’s exposure to known or probable carcinogens.
Many members of the rogues’ gallery of cancer-causing chemicals could have been banned if any of Lautenberg’s proposals had become law. His reform bills would have given the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stronger authority to reduce human exposures to notorious carcinogens, among them asbestos, formaldehyde and hexavalent chromium.
Why mention these three in particular? They’re classic examples of how current law and regulation fails to protect the public.
Asbestos-related cancer alone is responsible for more than 10,000 U.S. deaths each year and more than 107,000 worldwide.
Formaldehyde is widely used in production of paper and plywood, but it is also used or released as a preservative in certain household cleaning products and some cosmetics. It is listed as a “known human carcinogen” by the federal government. Political interference has stalled the EPA restrictions on formaldehyde emissions from industrial sources and slowed the agency’s efforts to prevent construction materials from off-gassing formaldehyde.
Hexavalent chromium or chrome-6, made famous by the 2000 feature film Erin Brockovich, is used in manufacturing stainless steel, in textile dyes and in leather tanning. A notorious cancer-causer, chrome-6 contaminated the drinking water of the small Mojave Desert town of Hinckley, CA, resulting in a number of deaths. Pacific Gas and Electric paid a $333 million settlement, at the time the largest in U.S. history, to resolve a lawsuit brought by the town’s residents.
If Lautenberg’s original 2005 Kid-Safe Chemicals Act had become law back then, the EPA would have more power today to limit certain applications of asbestos, formaldehyde, chrome-6 and dozens of other widely used carcinogens.
A stronger EPA could also take decisive action on newly discovered problems. For example, tetrabromobisphenol A, or TBBPA, a widely used fire retardant, was recently found to cause aggressive uterine cancer in laboratory studies. This chemical is added to a variety of consumer electronics and children’s products. Concentrations of TBBPA exceed one percent in the playpens, car seats and baby swings made by Graco Children’s Products, and there is little evidence that it provides a safety benefit. The TBBPA cancer research will be finalized this fall, but there is no question that a stronger TSCA reform bill would speed the process of removing unnecessary and toxic chemicals like this from children’s products.
By contrast, the recently introduced “chemical safety” legislation titled the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, which has considerable support among Republicans and Democrats (including Lautenberg, shortly before his death) and unwavering enthusiasm from the chemical industry, would actually shield these cancer-causing agents and many others from stringent regulation. Under the bill, the EPA would have to conduct exhaustive and seemingly endless cost-benefit analyses every time it sought to restrict a substance, tying the agency’s hands whenever it took action to protect people from dangerous chemicals.
And any state that has its own more rigorous toxics protections, such as California’s Proposition 65, would likely find it choked off if the weaker federal bill were to become law, paralyzing states that want to protect their residents from harmful chemical exposures.
For Americans who live outside the Beltway, it may be hard to grasp why legislation designed to protect people, particularly children and pregnant women, from chemical carcinogens wouldn’t zip through Congress. It’s because common sense is often nowhere to be found in the legislative process, mostly as a result of intense and very expensive industry lobbying.
In the 2012 election cycle, for example, chemical companies and industries that that buy and use their products collectively spent more than $33.6 million on campaign contributions to candidates for Congress. Of that, all but $7,000 went to conservative candidates, while less than $2,300 was given to liberals, according to Federal Elections Commission records analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group.
That enormous gap in giving could be one reason not a single Republican senator ever co-sponsored any of Sen. Lautenberg’s earlier TSCA reform proposals. And in the case of Republican Sen. Vitter (R-LA), the lead sponsor of the weak “chemical safety” bill that’s currently pending, the chemical industry’s large footprint and influence in his home state of Louisiana ratchets up the pressure to produce legislation that does little, if anything, to rein in the use of toxic materials. Louisiana is home to many chemical plants, as well as to “fence line” communities that suffer abnormally high rates of disease, including cancer, linked to persistent chemical exposures.
If Vitter’s bill becomes law without significant improvements, chemicals that cause cancer are destined to continue to be widely used and current and future generations of Americans, including children, will keep on being exposed to substances that will threaten their lives and cut some short.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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