President’s Cancer Panel Issues Sharp Pesticide Warnings
More than 100 people from the U.S. and Canada emailed me today about the same subject. An elite group of doctors that comprise the President’s Cancer Panel today issued perhaps the most damning report in U.S. history on the health impacts of chemicals. Titled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” the report specifically addressed pesticides used on lawns and gardens.
“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,” says the report. “Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) approved for used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic.”
Although the report did not contain information that most of us in the environmental and health sphere did not already know, the report’s impact was considered massive — considering the source. The President’s Cancer Panel was created in 1971 as a three-person, non-partisan group of experts charged with reporting its findings directly to the President. The current group, appointed by George Bush, was the first PCP to look in depth at environmental causes of cancer.
“The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies,” wrote Nicholas Kristof in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times.
The doctors didn’t hold back even a little bit in their scathing evaluation of the current state of chemical affairs.
“The increasing number of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compels us to action, even though we may currently lack irrefutable proof of harm,” wrote Dr. LaSalle D. Lefall, Jr., chair of the President’s Cancer Panel. The report further told President Obama that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated” and advised 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 bottom line, throughout the report, was an emphasis on the Precautionary Principle, the better-safe-than-sorry approach to environmental law that was the basis of the historic court decision in the Hudson v. Spraytech & ChemLawn at the Canadian Supreme Court in 2001. The Precautionary Principle, used in the Hudson case for the first time in world history, is a compulsory part of law in Europe and Canada, but not the U.S.
“That principle is highly controversial among scientists, regulators and industry” in the U.S., wrote Marla Cone, Editor in Chief of Environmental Health News in a review of the President’s Panel Report today.
Here are just a few of the of the report’s comments related to lawn care that jumped out at me:
“Reducing or ceasing landscaping pesticide and fertilizer use will help keep these chemicals from contaminating drinking water supplies.”
“Inadequate regulatory program funding and understaffing are partly to blame for many
of the shortcomings in U.S. regulation of environmental and occupational hazards. For example, according to a former director of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, staffing there has dropped from a one-time high of 600 employees to 320 in 2009.”
“The EPA has required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals in commerce.”
“Risks of childhood cancers are linked with parental exposures prior to conception.”
“Leukemia rates are consistently elevated among children who grow up on farms, among children whose parents used pesticides in the home or garden.”
“Female pesticide applicators have a significantly higher risk of ovarian cancer.”
“Phosphate fertilizers accelerate the leaching of arsenic from soils into groundwater.”
“About a quarter of the pesticides used in the United States are for landscaping purposes.”
Really, I could go on and on and on. The report, with a full bibliography, comes in at hundreds of pages and includes specific recommendations in addition to its findings of facts. Among them: “Reducing or ceasing landscaping pesticide and fertilizer use will help keep these chemicals from contaminating drinking water supplies.”
That kind of blunt assessment heading directly to the President is seen as a major comeuppance to the chemical industry.
“You are making progress in the U.S.!” said Kathryn Seely of the Canadian Cancer Society in an email to SafeLawns today.
“The report blames weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary,” wrote Texas radio host John Krauss in a Facebook post. “Of the 80,000 chemicals in the U.S., only a few hundred have been tested for safety. Wonder why we’re all sick?”
The report is likely to make any of us healthier anytime soon. It will take real action on the part of President Obama and the rest of the nation for that to happen. In the meantime, though, this report does make us feel better about the potential of the reforms to come. Take the time to read this report and spread its findings far and wide.