Everyday Chemicals Threaten Our Health, But Exact Risks Are Unknown : Shots - Health News A report to the president about cancer calls for more attention to the role common chemicals play in causing cancer. Some experts say the risks are overblown.
NPR logo Everyday Chemicals Threaten Our Health, But Exact Risks Are Unknown

Everyday Chemicals Threaten Our Health, But Exact Risks Are Unknown

We're living in a soup of cancer-causing chemicals that the government hasn't done enough to understand and deal with, says a report to the president that's due out today.

The nation is overdue in grappling with the "grievous harm" environmental toxins are wreaking on Americans' health, says the report prepared by the independent President's Cancer Panel, according to USA Today.

But the report is short on recommendations about what to do, the Los Angeles Times says. Panel Chairman Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., a Howard University surgeon, told the paper, "Everyone said, 'Please, whatever you do, make sure any definitive statement is based on evidence.' "

Part of the problem is that kind of information is hard to come by, as the longstanding controversy over the plastic additive bisphenol A shows.

So in the wake of the report, how much more should you fret? Toxin hawk Dr. Philip Landrigan, head of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, hailed the report as a "sea change," telling MedPage Today it could help change perceptions:

There has been disproportionate emphasis on lifestyle factors and insufficient attention paid to discovering and controlling environmental exposures.

But some say the report overstates the toxin case. Dr. Michael Thun, emeritus vice president of epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, told the LA Times, there are "important issues" raised by the the report. "But a reader would come away from this report believing that pollutants cause most cancer," he said. Smoking, alcohol, too much sunlight, radiation and sexually transmitted disease are more important factors, he said.

The President's Cancer Panel came to be when President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer. The group is charged with making an annual report to the president on how the country is doing in fighting the disease.

What President Obama chooses to do about the panel's findings is up to him.