You Are Here: Home » Blog » General » A Call to Action

A Call to Action

At the time it was written, a letter from several health care experts to Congressional leaders received little fanfare in the media. Addressed to Senator Edward Kennedy, among others, the letter cited environmental causes of cancer and urged the Obama Administration and Congress to take further action to reduce atmospheric carcinogens.

Now, more than a week later, the letter is getting some notoriety due to its circulation on the Internet. Having been released by a group known as Cambridge Who’s Who, the letter definitely caught our attention at Some of the causes of cancer listed — phenoxy herbicides (which include 2,4-D) and other pesticides — jump right off the page.

They are highlighted in this letter, below. Share it with everyone you know and contact your own Congressional leaders to get them a copy, too.

The text of the letter follows.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Senator Mike Enzi
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and

Senator Daniel K. Inouye
Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations

Senator Thad Cochran
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Appropriations

Representative Henry A. Waxman
Chairman, House Committee on Energy and Commerce

Representative Joe Barton
Ranking Member, House Committee on Energy and Commerce

Representative David Obey
Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations

Representative Jerry Lewis
Ranking Member, House Committee on Appropriations

Dear Senators and Representatives;

President Obama has boldly pledged to reform the national health care
system. Central to this, as the president has stressed, is containing
the spiraling costs of health care — costs which are soaring at about
6% each year. Most experts agree that this is not possible without a
better plan to prevent Americans from getting cancer in the first
place. This year, 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with cancer. Of
them, 562,000 people – over 1,500 every day – will die.

The cancer epidemic strikes as many as one in three Americans and
takes the life of one in four. After 37 years of losing the war
against cancer (a war that President Nixon originally declared in
December 1971), we are taking grossly and demonstrably inadequate
action to protect us from this menace.

While research on the prevention and treatment of cancer is
predominantly the responsibility of the National Cancer Institute
(NCI), other governmental agencies are also involved. These include
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission
(CPSC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Unfortunately,
such action is uncoordinated and unbalanced.

The connection between our losing the cancer war and the need to
control costs through prevention is clear. Cancer is not only one of
the most costly and sometimes deadly diseases in America, it is also
one of the most preventable.

Based on recent estimates by the National Institutes of Health, the
total costs of cancer are $219 billion a year. The annual costs to
taxpayers of diagnosis and treatment amount to $89 billion; the annual
costs of premature death are conservatively estimated at $112 billion;
and the annual costs due to lost productivity are conservatively
estimated at $18 billion. And these are the quantifiable, inflationary
economic costs. The human costs surely are of far greater magnitude.

To be sure, smoking remains the best-known and single largest cause of
cancer, particularly lung cancer. While incidence rates of lung cancer
in men have declined by 20% over the past three decades, rates in
women increased by 111%. But more importantly, non-smoking cancers –
due to known chemical and physical carcinogens — have increased
substantially since 1975. Some of the more startling realities in the
failure to prevent cancer are illustrated by their soaring rates of
increase. These include:
o Malignant melanoma of the skin in adults is increasing by 168% due
to the use of sunscreens in childhood that fail to block long wave
ultraviolet light;
o Thyroid cancer is increasing by 124% due in large part to ionizing
o Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is increasing 76% due mostly to phenoxy
herbicides; and phenylenediamine hair dyes;
o Testicular cancer is increasing by 49% due to pesticides; hormonal
ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products; and estrogen
residues in meat;
o Childhood leukemia is increasing by 55% due to ionizing radiation;
domestic pesticides; nitrite preservatives in meats, particularly hot
dogs; and parental exposures to occupational carcinogens;
o Ovary cancer (mortality) for women over the age of 65 has increased
by 47% in African American women and 13% in Caucasian women due to
genital use of talc powder;
o Breast cancer is increasing 17% due to a wide range of factors.
These include: birth control pills; estrogen replacement therapy;
toxic hormonal ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products;
diagnostic radiation; and routine premenopausal mammography, with a
cumulative breast dose exposure of up to about five rads over ten
years. Reflecting these concerns, Representatives Debbie Wasserman-
Schultz and Henry Waxman have introduced bills promoting educational
campaigns, including teaching regular breast self examination to high
school students. However, and in spite of its scientifically proven
efficacy, this initiative has been strongly challenged by breast
cancer prevention “experts” who remain unaware of the scientific
evidence on the cancer risks of high dose radiation premenopausal
mammography. Furthermore, these “experts” are unaware of the well-
documented scientific evidence of avoidable causes of breast cancer,
other than factors related to . . . “childbirth and breastfeeding.”
It is now beyond dispute in the independent scientific community that
environmental and occupational exposures to carcinogens are the
primary cause of non-smoking related cancers. An October 2007
publication on environmental and occupational causes of cancer by one
of us (Dr. Richard Clapp) further emphasized that the increasing
incidence of cancer is due to preventable exposures to carcinogens in
the workplace and environment.

The Clapp report provides a wide range of evidence showing preventable
cancers resulting from environmental exposures to formaldehyde,
chlorinated organic pesticides, and organic solvents, among other

The Clapp report also cites a wealth of evidence attributing the
increasing incidence of lung cancers to preventable occupational
exposures to asbestos, silica, chromium VI, formaldehyde, methylene
chloride, benzene, and ethylene oxide.

The National Cancer Institute is the primary federal agency devoted
exclusively to fighting cancer. Paradoxically, the escalating
incidence of cancer over the last thirty years parallels its sharply
escalating annual budget – from $690 million in 1975 to $6 billion
this year. Of this a mere $131 million is allocated to NCI’s mission
on Prevention and Early Detection. Furthermore, President Obama has
proposed a 5% increase in funding the NCI for unspecified cancer
research, with a doubling to $11.5 billion over the next eight years.

However, in spite of well-documented evidence relating the escalating
incidence of cancer to a wide range of avoidable carcinogenic
exposures, the NCI remains “asleep at the wheel,” and has stubbornly
refused to devote significant resources or even attention to

The NCI has also ignored proddings from Congress and independent
scientific experts to develop a comprehensive registry of carcinogens.
Worse still, the NCI has misled the public by claiming that most
cancers are due to unhealthy behavior, “blaming the victim,” despite
overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

NCI officials still claim, for instance that 94% of all cancers are
due to “unhealthy behavior” such as smoking, poor nutrition,
inactivity, obesity and over exposure to sunlight – and that a mere 6%
are attributable to exposures to environmental and occupational

These estimates are based on those published in 1981 by the late U.K.
epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll. However, from 1976 to 1999, Doll had
been a closet consultant to U.K. and U.S. industries, including
General Motors, Monsanto and the asbestos industry. Following
revelation of these conflicts of interest, just prior to his death in
2002, Doll admitted that most cancers, other than those related to
smoking and hormones, “are induced by exposure to chemicals often

Furthermore, the NCI has touted the imminent success of new cancer
treatments – promises that have seldom borne out, and which have been
widely questioned by the independent scientific community. For
instance, in 2004, Nobel Laureate Leland Hartwell, President of the
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Control Center, warned that Congress and the
public are paying NCI $4.7 billion a year, most of which is spent on
“promoting ineffective drugs” for terminal disease.

As members of the independent scientific community, we welcome the
Obama Administration’s goal of health care reform and prevention. But
while President Obama has put forward a unique cancer plan, it focuses
far too much on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, rather than on
prevention. The simple truth is that the more cancer is prevented, the
less there is to treat. That will also save lives and money.

Congress now has an epochal opportunity to reform our health care
system and prevent diseases, particularly cancer, from occurring in
the first place. By taking some simple steps, Congress should enact
reforms to prevent cancer. Accordingly, we recommend that Congress
enact the following specific legislative reforms to the 1971 National
Cancer Act:
o Congress declares that it is the national policy of the United
States to reduce carcinogenic exposures to confirmed or suspected
carcinogens by at least half during the next decade.
o Congress shall create a Deputy Director for Cancer Prevention of the
NCI who, in consultation with the administrators of EPA, OSHA, CPSC,
FDA and other relevant regulatory agencies, shall report to Congress
annually on steps needed during the next decade, under existing
regulatory authority, to reduce, by at least half, exposures
reasonably anticipated to reduce the prevalence of future preventable
o The Deputy Director of NCI shall meet quarterly with the
administrators of EPA, OSHA, CPSC, FDA and other relevant regulatory
agencies to identify opportunities to reduce exposures to carcinogens
in the environment, the workplace, pharmaceuticals, and consumer
products — food, household products, and cosmetics and personal care
o The Deputy Director’s annual report shall include recommendations
for changes in statutes, regulations and enforcement authority,
necessary to achieve this national policy, in consultation with the
administrators of the EPA, OSHA, CPSC, FDA and other relevant
regulatory agencies.
o Congress shall allocate at least 40% of the NCI budget to explicit
prevention related programs for FY 2011, and 50% by FY 2014.
o Congress shall mandate the annual publication of a comprehensive
register of carcinogens. This will provide federal, state and local
governments, as well as the public, with comprehensive information on
carcinogens in the workplace, environment, and consumer products so
that necessary preventive action can be promptly undertaken.
These steps alone will not win the war against cancer, but they will
be critical in redirecting a failing war on cancer that can best be
described as one of the most notorious public health failures of the
20th century. Cancer prevention is a critical public policy area in
which reform is long overdue.

Experts on Causes and Prevention of Cancer:

Samuel S. Epstein, MD Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

Nicholas A. Ashford, PhD., JD
Professor of Technology and Policy
Director, MIT Technology and Law Program
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Richard W. Clapp, DSc, MPH
Professor Environmental Health
Boston University School of Public Health

Quentin D. Young, MD
Past President American Public Health Association
Chairman, Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, Chicago

Samuel S. Epstein, MD
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health
Tel: 312-996-2297 Email: [email protected]

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
Scroll to top