HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Follow-up on Environmental Cancer Risk Recommendations

One year ago Friday, the President’s Cancer Panel released a report entitled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now.” It examined the impact of environmental factors on cancer risk and recommended actions to address them. In a cover letter the authors urged the President “most strongly” 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 National Public Radio presentation of “On Point” with Tom Ashcroft featured its findings in a broadcast available here

As described in a news article, the report criticized regulators and industry for using "woefully outdated" estimates of environmentally caused cancers to set regulations and "to justify its claims that specific products pose little or no cancer risk." The recommendations included a variety of ways to reduce exposures to carcinogens. Richard Clapp of Boston University's School of Public Health called the report "a call to action." Much of the report is devoted to what federal agencies, scientists and physicians can do to improve environmental health. A progressive newsletter article blamed weak regulations and inadequate enforcement upon industry’s power over government agencies.

Over the past year, has any action been taken to respond to these recommendations? It appears that the report has been widely read and disseminated, but so far the Administration’s attention on health care has been focused on the wider issues of patient coverage. On the other hand, private organizations have been disseminating the report’s information, so the word is getting out. For example, as recently as March 2011 groups like EmpowHER and Sierra Club have been using the report to call for lifestyle and policy changes. The Pesticide Action Network reports that it and its partner organizations are gathering tens of thousands of signatures to deliver to President Obama demanding a national cancer prevention plan as outlined in the report’s recommendations.

But the report has not been forgotten by the Administration, and has been studied in the context of its primary focus, Obama’s new health care plan. A few weeks ago, the President’s Cancer Panel issued an addendum to the report entitled, “How the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and Other Recent Legislative Activity May Impact the Panel’s Recommendations”, available here. The new report concludes that increasing health care access, and numerous other provisions of PPACA either directly address or potentially facilitate implementation of the Panel’s recommendations in this report. It is an interesting read.


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