Rethinking the way the U.S. deals with cancer prevention

The Wellesley Townsman/May 13, 2010
By Sara Frost Azzam/Guest Columnist

A week ago, the President’s Cancer Panel released a 200-page landmark report that calls upon the citizens of the United States to re-think the way we deal with cancer prevention. Among other things, the report attacks the idea that our existing laws presume that chemicals are considered safe unless there is strong evidence to suggest otherwise. “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says, adding that “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.”

This report should come as no surprise to those of you who have followed the work of the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project (WCPP), a local grassroots organization which, since 1997, has presented educational forums for the community about cancer prevention. Our premise, since our inception, has been to promote the Precautionary Principle, the European Union standard that states that if there is any doubt about a substance’s safety, that substance should be banned it until it has been proven to be problem-free. A case in point is the alarming statistic about personal care products that has been the focus of much of the WCPP’s work since 2003: the European Union has banned approximately 1,100 ingredients used in personal care products while the United States currently bans less than a dozen.

Other WCPP educational forums have focused on many of the strategies that the President’s Cancer Panel noted in their new national recommendations. Among these are:

a) Use filtered water instead of bottled water because of the harmful aspects of the plastics in which most bottled water is contained;

b) Store and carry water in stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free and phthalate-free containers to reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting and other chemicals;

c) Microwave food in ceramic or glass containers to also reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may leach into food when containers are heated.

d) Reduce exposure to pesticides by choosing food grown without pesticides and by eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides in our own lawns and gardens;

e) Properly dispose of pharmaceuticals, household chemicals, paints, and other materials. We have a marvelous resource in our town’s RDF that many communities do not. The RDF holds an annual Hazardous Waste Day. Make use of this resource!