By guest blogger Annie Spiegelman (a.k.a the Dirt Diva)
Earlier this month the President’s Cancer Panel submitted its report, entitled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, which describes the effects of environmental exposures on cancer risk. The two-member panel—LaSalle D. Lefall, Jr., MD, a professor of surgery at Howard University, and Margaret Kripke, PhD, a professor at University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center—was appointed by President Bush. In 2008 and 2009, the panelists met with nearly 50 medical experts before writing their report. When Bush’s appointees join forces with the organic food movement and say we’re being poisoned on a daily basis from chemicals used in food, farming, homes, offices, and backyards, trust me, it’s time to pay attention! I hate to say, “I told you so,” but I will. I told you so! And so did Maria Rodale, and so did her granddad more than 70 years ago.
The report is over 200 pages long, so I’ll just stick to the gardening/agricultural section here to give you a little recap. The report states: “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which are also used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic.”
A few miserable highlights from the “Exposure to Contaminants from Agricultural Sources” section:
Nearly 1,400 pesticides have been registered by the EPA for agricultural and non-agricultural use. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as multiple myeloma and soft tissue sarcoma.
Risks of childhood cancers are linked to parental exposures prior to conception.
The EPA has required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals currently in commerce.
Male farmers and pesticide applicators have significantly higher prostate cancer risk, and female spouses have a significantly higher incidence of melanoma. Female pesticide applicators have significantly higher incidences of ovarian cancer.
Agricultural chemicals can be carried far from their application sites by wind and through soil and groundwater contamination.
Atrazine, a broadleaf herbicide that is primarily used in corn production, has become ubiquitous in the population. 80 million pounds are applied in the U.S. annually. The pesticide has been shown to affect mammary gland development in animal studies, with some findings suggesting multigenerational effects. In September 2010, EPA will determine if its regulatory position on atrazine should be revised. Atrazine is manufactured in Switzerland and is used in more than 80 countries, but it is banned in all of Europe.
(I think we all need to stand up now and do a collective Joan Crawford SCREAM!)
The panel tells President Obama that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated” and asks him to “use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.” The panel also recommends enforcing a Precautionary Principle, or what all moms have been saying since the beginning of time: better safe than sorry. This principle is used, in part, in Europe and Canada, but not in the United States. Basically, the Precautionary Principle asks that products or chemicals be sufficiently safety-tested before they are marketed—instead of the way it is now: get poisoned, sue the company, reform the law. Isn’t that backwards and upside-down and inside out? As the report states, “We should shift the burden of ‘proving safety’ to manufacturers prior to new chemical approval.” The report blames weak laws and lax enforcement, and believes the Kids Safe Chemicals Act, (see www.ewg.org), which was recently introduced in the 110th Congress, has the potential to be an important first step toward a precautionary chemical management policy and a regulatory approach to reducing environmental cancer risk.
Before we all run, hide, or stop drinking and eating, here are a few recommendations of what individuals can do from the report:
1. Children are far more susceptible to damage from environmental carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting compounds. Choose foods, house and garden products, play spaces, toys, medicines, and medical tests that will minimize children’s exposure to toxins. Ideally, parents should avoid exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and known or suspected carcinogens prior to a child’s conception and throughout pregnancy and early life, when risk of damage is greatest.
2. Choose, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and wash conventionally grown produce to remove residues. Similarly, exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic-runoff from livestock feedlots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these chemicals, if it is available. Avoid or minimize consumption of processed, charred, and well-done meats.
3. Remove shoes before entering the home, and wash work clothes separately from family laundry to avoid numerous occupational chemicals.
3. Filter tap water and use it instead of commercially bottled water.
4. Store and carry water in stainless steel, glass, or BPA- and phthalate-free containers. This will reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that leach into water from plastics.
5. Microwave food and beverages in ceramic or glass instead of plastic, again to reduce endocrine-disrupting chemicals’ leaching.
Last, these smarty-pants experts actually want us all to be smart. What? An informed, involved, aware, and proactive public? Is that even humanly possible? Do we have to put down the chips and get off the couch? This is what they suggest: “To a greater extent than many realize, individuals have the power to affect public policy by letting policymakers know that they strongly support environmental cancer research and measures that will reduce or remove from the environment toxics that are known or suspected carcinogens or endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Individuals can influence industry by selecting non-toxic products and, where these do not exist, communicating with manufacturers and trade organizations about the desire for safer products.”
For tips and information on safe, sustainable gardening practices for your home garden, visit www.OrganicGardening.com and www.safelawns.org. For safer, healthier garden product recommendations, visit www.OurWaterOurWorld.org, and to dispose of pesticides and other hazardous wastes in your yard, call 800-Clean-Up.