Friday, May 7, 2010

President's Cancer Panel Reports on US Food + Drinking Water

The President's Cancer Panel, a working group at the National Cancer Institute of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has released its annual report for 2008-2009, "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now." Yesterday's New York Times carries an op-ed on the report, which you can read online here. (Caution: don't try to print the report as it's 240 pages total.)

As the title implies, this year's report focuses on "the impact of environmental factors on cancer risk" (n.p.). And it includes some findings that it are frankly surprising -- and quite alarming -- to hear from an American federal agency:

  • The use of antibiotics and growth hormones in industrial livestock farming creates "toxic run-off" that is contaminating our supply of drinking water. These chemicals "may contribute to endocrine disruption in humans," leading to cancer (49).

  • The use of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers in large-scale agriculture is causing higher levels of nitrate, cadmium, and arsenic in our drinking water. While in most drinking water, these chemicals remain at levels the FDA says are safe, levels are on the rise. Each of these chemicals is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) at moderately high levels of exposure (47-48).

  • Most of the "80,000 chemicals on the market" in the US "are un- or understudied and largely unregulated" leading to a high risk of carcinogens in all product markets (n.p.). The report lays particular emphasis on bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that "is used to harden plastics (e.g., baby and water bottles) and line the inside of food and beverage cans." Bisphenol A (BPA) is known to "leach into food" and may result in cancer and early puberty (18).

  • Most fish that are higher in the food chain (tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, shark) now contain high levels of methylmercury, a pollutant associated with coal power and the plastics industry. "Consumers, particularly pregnant and nursing women, women who may become pregnant, and young children, are cautioned to avoid" eating these fish (37).

    The panel's overall finding: "The American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures" to cancer-causing agents (n.p.).

    The report includes numerous policy recommendations for the US President, the FDA, OSHA, and other federal agencies. But what can we do as individuals? The panel makes the following recommendations with regard to our food and drinking water:

  • Eat organic and free-range whole foods, avoid processed food: "Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues. Similarly, exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these medications if it is available. Avoiding or minimizing consumption of processed, charred, and well-done meats will reduce exposure to carcinogenic heterocyclic amines and polyaromatic hydrocarbons" (111).

  • Filter your water: "Filtering home tap or well water can decrease exposure to numerous known or suspected carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Unless the home water source is known to be contaminated, it is preferable to use filtered tap water instead of commercially bottled water" (111).

  • Avoid plastic containers for foods and water: "Storing and carrying water in stainless steel, glass, or BPA- and phthalate-free containers will reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting and other chemicals that may leach into water from plastics. This action also will decrease the need for plastic bottles, the manufacture of which produces toxic by-products, and reduce the need to dispose of and recycle plastic bottles. Similarly, microwaving food and beverages in ceramic or glass instead of plastic containers will reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may leach into food when containers are heated" (112).

    And keep your fingers crossed!
  • No comments:

    Post a Comment