Everything Man-Made (Except Cell Phones) Gives You Cancer, Says Presidential Cancer Panel


The prestigious President's Cancer Panel is releasing a new report today, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. The press release heralding the report notes:

Even with the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer in recent years, a report released today by the President's Cancer Panel finds that the true burden of environmentally-induced cancer is greatly underestimated.

Environmental exposures in this report are largely confined to exposures to man-made chemicals, medical radiation, and household radon. Perhaps the burden is underestimated, but glancing through the report, I have not yet found any new overall estimates for the incidence of cancer associated with environmental exposures. I will keep looking. In any case, the report recites the now canonical claim:

With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.

If trace exposures to increasing numbers of synthetic chemicals is a cause of cancer, then one might reasonably think that cancer incidence rates must be going up, but that's not so. A fact that the report acknowledges from at its beginning:

Despite overall decreases in incidence and mortality [emphasis added], cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.

This statement is in line with the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) most recent report on cancer incidence which notes:

Overall incidence was on the rise from 1975 to 1989, with non-significant changes in rates from 1989 to 1999. From 1999 to 2006 incidence has significantly declined.

The President's Cancer Panel focuses its attention on recent increases in childhood cancers which is as it should be. Cancer is terrible at any age, but especially so in young people. So how alarmed should we be? The report doesn't cite an actual number, but eyeballing the graph on page 4 indicates an increase from about 13 per 100,000 in 1975, to just over 15 per 100,000 in 2006. The CDC's 2007 report on childhood cancer trends noted:

The findings in this report indicate that, during 1990–2004, overall childhood cancer death rates declined significantly among boys and girls, children and adolescents, Hispanics and non-Hispanics, most racial groups, and all U.S. Census regions. Incidence rates for all childhood cancers increased by 0.6% per year during 1975–2002  (emphasis added). The overall decreasing trend in childhood cancer mortality in the United States likely reflects advances in cancer treatment in this population.

This rate yields about the same increase in incidence as reported by the President's Cancer Panel. The panel is also concerned about occupational exposures of farming families and workers to pesticides. As evidence for this concern, the panel cites a 2005 study which found that pesticide applicators had higher rates of prostate and ovarian cancer. However, the report fails to mention this additional result from the report.

The overall cancer incidence among farmers [SIR 0.88, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.84-0.91] and their spouses (SIR 0.84, 95% CI 0.80-0.90) were significantly lower than expected.

Both results are interesting and a balanced report would have cited them. After all, the study concluded:

Low overall cancer incidence rates seem to be a result of low overall smoking prevalence and other lifestyle factors, while excess cancer of the prostate and ovaries among applicators may be occupationally related.

May be related. Or maybe not.

Of course, most Americans are not agricultural pesticide applicators, thus the relevant concern would be just how much danger do exposures to trace amounts of pesticides pose to consumers? One gets a sense of the carefully alarmist way the report is written by reading this section:

A key concern regarding pesticide use is whether, and to what extent, food products are contaminated with these chemicals. To estimate pesticide contamination of foods purchased by consumers, the Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program (PDP)224 samples more than 80 types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, grains, dairy products, and other foods to identify and quantify residues from insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and growth regulators. The foods, including processed and imported products, are collected from 10 states representing all regions of the country; the samples are collected as close to the point of consumption as possible. In its most recent report, PDP analyzed 11,683 samples, conducting an average of 105 tests on each sample (more than 1.22 million analyses in total). Only 23.1 percent of samples had zero pesticide residues detected, 29.5 percent had one residue, and the remainder had two or more.224 The majority of residues detected were at levels far below EPA tolerances[emphasis added] (limits on pesticide residues on foods; referred to as maximum residue limits, or MRLs, in many other countries) but the data on which the tolerances are based are heavily criticized by environmental health professionals and advocates as being inadequate and unduly influenced by industry.

Well, environmental health professionals and advocates would criticize those EPA tolerances, wouldn't they? But what does the science say about exposure to trace amounts of synthetic pesticides? The panel reaches back to cite a 1993 National Research Council report on childhood exposures to synthetic carcinogens to bolster its case. Fair enough. But oddly, the panel overlooks the 1996 National Research Council report, Carcinogens and Anticarcinogens in the Human Diet. The press release for that report noted:

Cancer-causing chemicals that occur naturally in foods are far more numerous in the human diet than synthetic carcinogens, yet both types are consumed at levels so low that they currently appear to pose little threat to human health.

Again, I am still combing through the panel's report, but preliminarily I fear that the President's Cancer Panel has ignored President Barack Obama's promise to "restore science to its rightful place."

There is at least some good news for cell phone users, the panel finds no convincing evidence that they cause cancer.

NEXT: Put Him In Bed With the Captain's Daughter: J.K. Galbraith Binge-Drinks to the Death of the CBO

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. most Americans are not agricultural pesticide applicators

    You’re so boycotted.

  2. The evidence is clear: cancer is caused by studies.

  3. There is at least some good news for cell phone users, the panel finds no convincing evidence that they cause cancer.

    Just yesterday, my 14 year-old daughter was telling me her science teacher told her that having electronics near her could cause cancer, so she keeps her alarm clock on the other side of the room. Fucking public schools…

    1. Good luck countering the brainwash.

    2. Keeping my alarm clock on the far side of the room is the only way I can reliably get up in the morning, so while it may not cause cancer, it would cause unemployment.

    3. That is just pathetic. Anyone who’s paid even cursory attention to the woefully inadequate science coverage in the MSM knows that EM fields causing cancer is a myth. This credentialed education expert can’t be bothered to keep up with the local paper’s weekly two coulumn science section, much less anything actually related to what the hell he/she is teaching.

      Public school teachers are underpaid hardworking professionals my ass.

      1. I was “non-renewed” (euphemism for fired) at my school because I brought news materials into the school that countered conventional wisdom. It upset some kids and they complained, which makes me too controversial to teach.

        It’s hard to go against CW, even if you want to. There is a line to follow in public schools, and crossing it even to bring alternative view points or new knowledge is strictly discouraged.

        Sorry, I’m having a bitter week.

        1. Sorry to hear that Madbiker. Based on your posts you appear to be dedicated to actual education of your pupils and not the “binge and purge” and “plug and chug” approach to K12 education.

          Medicine is similar in this respect. God forbid if one suggests a cause for a disease etiology or TX regiment, with scientifically based actual effective outcomes, that challenge current medical and political (often one and the same) dogma.

          1. Thanks GM. I’ll will bounce back, always have and always will. It still sucks. I think of school as a place where free discourse is encouraged, but see that it is not. Thought science worked the same way. But politics, politics, politics rules the day, always.

            I don’t deny the school the right to hire or fire as they choose, but I have a problem with the hypocrisy of a system that says “give every kid a chance (and then a second, and third, and fourth, etc.)” to always make up work, make up for mistakes, etc., and then that same institutional credo is not applied to the other fallible humans who populate it and make it run.

            1. That would require consistency Madbiker, something that K12, as you know all too well, lacks greatly.

              I am curious as to how much nepotism is rampant at your former employer. Like cancer, the profession of education tends to run in families.

              1. Not in the blood-family sense, but nepotism does rule. But it does in many places, not just school. You can sense who the favorites are. I tend to be private and do not socialize much with co-workers. Kissing ass is something I do for NO ONE. However, I fear that is the one true way to get ahead. Flatter egos: students, parents, bosses, whether they deserve it or not, and you’ll get everywhere. I loved college because at least my grades were based on objective observation of how well I constructed arguments and wrote papers. I see why many are tempted to stay there forever. I am ready to go back to the collegiate womb after this experience in the world of secondary ed.

            2. I don’t deny the school the right to hire or fire as they choose

              I assume, then, that you’re talking about a private school?

          2. This is the first place I’ve worked where the opportunity to evaluate and correct mistakes was not offered prior to disciplinary action or dismissal. Not that I’ve ever been fired before, either, but I have had missteps along the way, as many others have, I’m sure, and it is demoralizing to be told not to try to explain your actions because it makes you appear “uncooperative” and incapable of meeting professional demands.

    4. Why is your daughter so gullible that she believes this?

      1. Oh dear god. “Gullible daughter” is to Epi as hikers are to Steve Smith. Byron, I hope you have a shotgun.

        1. “Naw, baby, there’s no chloroform on this rag. I’ll prove it to you. Here, smell it.”

  4. Obama has restored science to its rightful place, so long as you believe that its rightful place is providing an excuse for the gov’t expanding its control into more and more sectors of private life.

  5. An often overlooked fact about the US healthcare system is that we have the best survival rates for two of the most common forms of cancer -breast and prostate- in the entire world.

    Yep, even better than Norway.

    I have a personal anecdote that would fit within the cancer death statistics listed above: My mom’s mom died from breast cancer when she was about 40, this was in 1962. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 and she survived and is now doing fine and living a healthy life. The big difference is the improvements in medical technology used to detect cancer earlier than we used to. This is what saved my mom.

  6. Seriously, either these things do not present an aggregate risk, or the present no risk. Otherwise everyone’s probability for carcinogenic exposure should be hit by age 37, and 90% of the population who survives to age 37 doesn’t get cancer.

    Everything gives lab mice cancer if you expose them to it in heroic doses everyday for their whole short, miserable lives. The human statistics don’t seem to be as supportive.

  7. Joe Jackson called this decades ago.

  8. This is all laid out in Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie in their fear mongering tome “Slow Death By Rubber Duck”:
    “We’re all marinating in chemicals every day,” they write.

    1. Truly sad. These two bozos probably spend their entire lives looking for one boogey man after the other.

      1. excerpt:
        “Baby bottles. Deodorants. A favourite overstuffed sofa. These items, so familiar and apparently harmless, are now sources of pollution at least as serious as the more industrial-grade varieties described above. The market-leading baby bottles in North America are made of polycarbonate plastic, and they leach bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor, into their contents. Deodorants ? and nearly every other common product in the bathroom ? can contain phthalates (pronounced “tha-lates”), which have been linked to a number of serious reproductive problems. Phthalates are also a common ingredient of vinyl children’s toys. Sofas and other upholstered products contain brominated flame retardants and are coated with stain-repellent chemicals, both of which increase the risk of cancer and are absorbed by anyone sitting on a sofa or chair to watch Friday night TV.”

        1. Gee, that’s fascinating! The Barnum Corollary is truly in full effect here.

          The enemy here is capitalistic consumptionism, not the very remote chance of developing cancer from any of these products.

          Apparently the authors of this “study” would prefer us to live in the caves of Lascaux with all the benefits and accoutrements of Natural Living.

          Was this penned by Organic Girl?

        2. “Deodorants ? and nearly every other common product in the bathroom ? can contain phthalates (pronounced “tha-lates”), which have been linked to a number of serious reproductive problems.”

          You know, the birth rate HAS declined since the common folk began using deoderant. Hmmmmm…

  9. I’ll just paraphrase the study: “if we don’t scaremonger you, how will we increase our funding?”

    I’m astonished by how utterly stupid most people are regarding the mechanisms of cancer, and how that leads them to think that it’s even possible that exposure to stuff like trace amounts of agricultural pesticides is causing cancer.

    You DNA is constantly being fucked up by just environmental radiation. 99.99% of the time this causes the cell to die or…nothing.

    We have a huge national study already: it’s called the US population. We have been eating agricultural pesticides en mass for many many years, and cancer rates are going down.

    1. I think the CDC needs to declare carbon 14 carcinogenic and give us guidelines on how to avoid exposure.

      We won’t even speak of potassium 40.

      1. Don’t even get me started on dihydrogen monoxide. Too much of that will KILL YOU.

  10. Does the report say what the trend in incidence rate is once the effect of reduced smoking prevalence is accounted for?

    A reduction in smoking could certainly cause a decrease in overall incidence despite increases in the incidence of cancer from other causes.

  11. 11 Environmental Protection Agency employee unions representing over 7000 environmental and public health professionals called for a moratorium on drinking water fluoridation programs across the country, and have asked EPA management to recognize fluoride as posing a serious risk of causing cancer in people.

    People need to stop groaning when they hear the word fluoride. People Opposed to Fluoridation were probably the first environmentalists who were, are still are, put-down, denigrated and marginalized by people who should know better.

    Fluoride is not a nutrient nor essential for healthy teeth. Modern science shows that ingesting this chemical does not reduce tooth decay. Fluoride as a drug hardens tooth enamel from topical application, alone.

    The fluoride chemicals that are added into water supplies are by-products of the phosphate fertilizer industry which are oddly regulated by a private company called NSF International that also represents the industries that produce these chemicals.

    The EPA out-sourced this responsibility in the 1980’s

    In. February 2008, NSF international reported that they only tested 245 fluoridation chemicals sampled from 2000 to 2006 and found 2% had detectable levels of lead and 43% had detectable levels of arsenic. Since the EPA set the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) of fluoride and arsenic at zero, I don’t understand why these tainted fluoridation chemicals are allowed into public water supplies. No one entity seems to be in charge. I’ve questioned EPA, CDC and NSF International. No one has the answer.

    Other toxins allowed in the fluoridation chemicals are antimony, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, selenium, and thallium. See:

    People might be surprised to learn that fluoridation chemicals (silicofluorides) have never been safety tested in humans or animals.

    Over 2,750 professionals (including over 260 dentists) urge the US Congress to stop water fluoridation until Congressional hearings are conducted, citing scientific evidence that fluoridation, long promoted to fight tooth decay, is ineffective and has serious health risks. See statement: http://www.fluorideaction.org/……2007.html

    It might be hard to eliminate the other man-made toxins from our environment. Stopping the flow of fluoride takes just a twist of a spigot and the political will to demand this of our legislators

    1. Can’t you just stick to the normal tinfoil hat shit? You know, chemtrails, pesticides, GMOs, that shit? Now I have to keep track of fluoride idiots too?

      1. Wait, I thought fluoride concerns were pretty “normal tinfoil hat shit.” Perhaps Tinfoil Hat Classic, or Tinfoil Hat Throwback, but it’s not like it’s something you’ve never heard of.

        1. “He’s doin’ it paranoid old school.”

    2. We must maintain our Purity of Essence against this mass communist conspiracy known as fluoridation.

      1. The British did, and look how great their teeth are!

    3. “Other toxins allowed in the fluoridation chemicals are antimony, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, selenium, and thallium.”

      And did you know plutonium is allowed in certain schools!?!?!?

    4. Holy shit! 260 dentists! This must be right!!!!!!!

      1. Odd. I thought the standard of peer review was “four out of five dentists…”

    5. Is starting your sentences with ’11’ what they call a dangling non-sequitor?

    6. Fifty years ago I remember big battles over putting fluoride in drinking water, and it was mainly the right wing opposed. The left was highly critical of the right for resisting something that was “for the children”, but now it appears the left with its short memory has now decided extra chemicals produced by evil corporations and placed in our drinking water are bad for us.

  12. shut the fuck up, wall of text

  13. What is most disappointing is that people can’t even render a hypothesis, and than render a logical conclusion.

    Hypothesis: OMG, there are so many man-nmade chemicals!!! (run around like head less chicken)

    Data: there is less cancer INCIDENCE than before

    LOGICAL conclusion: We need MORE man-made chemicals, and we need them now, damnit!

  14. We’re all gonna diiiiiiiiiie!11

  15. So, my guess would be to retro-fit our live-styles back to that of, say, the Luddite movement? (Excepting of course, the government and academic elites, captains of industry and the glamor merchants in entertainment, eh?) 😉

  16. …”life”-styles….

  17. The California Air Resources Board’s December 15, 2009 report states:

    “Nearly all homes (98%) had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for CANCER and chronic irritation…”

    Report: http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/apr/past/04-310.pdf

    Unintended Consequences: Formaldehyde Exposure in Green Homes. http://www.aihasynergist-digit…..1002?pg=32

    CA Energy Commission sets regulation with little input and/or concern about the negative impact on the occupants. During the CEC existence residential formaldehyde has gone from difficult to detect to 14 ppb, to 29 ppb, to 50 ppb to 100 ppb and asthma in children under 5 has increased.

    Homes with sick occupants have had elevated formaldehyde. After controlling the formaldehyde, several parents report their children have been able to completely stop using inhalers and asthma medicines.

    Large sources of residential exposure not mentioned are formaldehyde resin in: fiberglass wall insulation; laminate flooring; and MDF (interior doors and molding).

    Most building materials have reached their long-term equilibrium by the time it reaches a job site. Formaldehyde continues to off gas forever. A tract home built in the early 1960’s carpet underlayment is still raising room air to 93 ppb.

    1. I swam in the fucking goddam Mississippi River every summer’s day all through the 70’s. Do you have any idea what the water quality of that river was like in the 70’s? Like swimming in a cesspool only way, way worse (e.g.’ Wow! Look at that! There’s a dead horse floating by!). Add to that all the unrestricted industrial dumping that was rampant back then.

      At present, I am a very health man in his early fifties. Doctors have marveled at my level of .

      The human body can handle much more than our government doom-sayers are telling us.

  18. At present, I am a very health man in his early fifties. Doctors have marveled at my level of .

    At your level of something you’re not allowed to talk about in public? :-p

  19. You said, “There is at least some good news for cell phone users, the panel finds no convincing evidence that they cause cancer.”

    That’s not what they said, exactly. They said the risks “are unclear and require further study”. They also said they found “no evidence to support a link between cell phone use and cancer”. Contradictory, no?

    The president’s panel appear to think that cell phones are dangerous. They recommend earpieces, texting, and short calls to minimize risk (risk for which there is no evidence).

    This thing is not well written.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.