President’s Cancer Panel Calls Environment Greater Contributor to Disease than Previously Believed

05/11/2010
By For more information, contact media@uml.edu or 978-934-3224

UMass Lowell Scientists Testimony Strongly Reflected in Report Findings

LOWELL, Mass. ߝ In a report released on May 6, 2010, an expert panel that advises the president on cancer said that chemicals and other environmental and occupational exposures contribute significantly more to causing the deadly disease than previously thought. The President’s Cancer Panel’s recommendations are based on research from experts around the country, including researchers from UMass Lowell.

The panel advised President Obama “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 noted that with nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is more widespread than previously recognized.

The report recommended that additional efforts are needed to reduce exposure to cancer causing chemicals from the environment, consumer products and workplace.

“It is more effective to prevent disease than to treat it, but cancer prevention efforts have focused narrowly on smoking, other lifestyle behaviors and chemo-preventive interventions,” said UMass Lowell Prof. David Kriebel, chair of the Department of Work Environment, who testified before the President’s Cancer Panel. “Scientific evidence on environmental exposure effects on disease is not being adequately integrated into national policy decisions and strategies for disease prevention, health care access, and health system reform.”

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than half a million Americans are expected to die from cancer this year (about 1,500 people each day) and nearly 1.5 million new cases will be diagnosed.

“For decades, science has revealed how exposures in our workplaces and the environment can increase the risk of cancer,” said Kriebel. “Yet unlike lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, individuals can only do so much when it comes to preventing exposure to occupational and environmental cancer risks. This report affirms the importance of prevention-oriented chemical and consumer product policies and market-based solutions as critical strategies to prevent cancer.”

The panel’s report urged that “safer alternatives to many currently used chemicals are urgently needed.”

“We couldn’t agree more,” said Associate Prof. Joel Tickner of UMass Lowell’s Department of Community Health and Sustainability and director of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production’s Chemicals Policy Initiative. “Reducing exposure to environmental and occupational carcinogens requires investment in research and direct assistance to industry to identify safer substitutes to these disease-causing chemicals. Our direct work with industry has showcased how businesses are tapping incredible innovation to find and transition towards the use of safer alternatives that are better for public health, the environment, and the bottom line. Policies and technical support are needed to facilitate this transition, especially for small businesses.”

The panel held four meetings across the United States and heard from 45 experts, including Kriebel, who addressed all major aspects of environmental risks to cancer. The panel also accepted and reviewed testimony submitted by the broader public.

“The review by this prestigious panel reinforces the importance of the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s education, research and industry assistance programs as important primary cancer prevention efforts, including reducing the burden of occupational and environmental risk factors in Massachusetts and beyond,” said Shortie McKinney, dean of the university’s School of Health and Environment. “I’m pleased to join numerous health, environment and labor organizations in support of this report.”

To download and review a copy of the report, go to the President’s Cancer Panel’s Web site: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp.htm

To review the President's Cancer Panel fact sheets on industrial carcinogens, air and water pollutants, agriculture and cancer, and radiation and cancer, visit: www.sustainableproduction.org/publ.chemicals.php

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 13,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu