Vail Daily column: Chemicals in the environment cause cancer? Duh |

Vail Daily column: Chemicals in the environment cause cancer? Duh

Cassie Pence
Greener Pastures
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – When the President’s Cancer Panel issued a report recently stating that public health officials have “grossly underestimated” the likelihood that environmental contaminants trigger a large proportion of the cancers diagnosed, I thought to myself … “Duh.”

For several years now, I have read other books and articles linking cancer to the everyday chemicals we’re exposed to – whether it’s the off-gassing of manufacturing chemicals, like formaldehyde, in our homes or toxic pesticides in our food or BPA leaching into plastic food containers. Personally, I didn’t need a special government group to tell me that the chemical overload our bodies are enduring is making us sick. I was already a believer, which is in part why I own an organic cleaning company. Many conventional cleaners on supermarket shelves contain suspected carcinogens, and using natural products is an easy way to help lighten the chemical burden of modern life.

In a letter addressed to the president to preface the report, the panel states that the nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives, are “un-studied or understudied and largely unregulated” making exposure to potential environmental carcinogens widespread. The panel sites exposure to BPA in plastics (bisphenol A), still found in many products and still not regulated, as well as naturally occurring radon and manufacturing and combustion by-products such as formaldehyde and benzene are all very concerning.

The panel goes on to say “efforts to inform the public of such harmful exposures and how to prevent them must be increased. All levels of government, from federal to local, must work to protect every American from needless disease through rigorous regulation of environmental pollutants.”

“Prevention” is the key word here, and I am so happy that an organization associated with the government finally used it. Not all cancer can be linked to toxins in the environment. There are other causes, like genetics, too much alcohol, too much sun or smoking, causes that shouldn’t be devalued. But all this talk about “finding the cure” and events like “Race for the Cure” are a bit frustrating when not enough people are talking about “Race for Prevention.”

While the report is thick with the types of chemical exposures that may lead to the 1.5 million of Americans diagnosed annually with cancer, it’s a little light on actually how to prevent those exposures. But the good people at the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog helping to bring awareness about the health dangers of chemical exposures in the environment, among other issues, has just created a list of nine tips to help consumers prevent exposures to suspected carcinogens. With the group’s permission, here are the nine simple things you can do:

1. Filter your tap water. Common carcinogens in tap water include arsenic, chromium, and chemical byproducts that form when water is disinfected. A simple carbon filter or pitcher can help reduce the levels of some of these contaminants. If your water is polluted with arsenic or chromium, a reverse osmosis filter will help.

2. Seal outdoor wooden decks and play sets. Those built before 2005 are likely coated with an arsenic pesticide that can stick to hands and clothing.

3. Cut down on stain- and grease-proofing chemicals. “Fluorochemicals” related to Teflon and Scotchgard are used in stain repellents on carpets and couches and in greaseproof coatings for packaged and fast foods. Some of these chemicals cause cancer in lab studies. To avoid them, skip greasy packaged foods and say no to optional stain treatments in the home.

4. Stay safe in the sun. More than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. To protect your skin from the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) radiation, seek shade, wear protective clothing and use a safe and effective sunscreen from EWG’s sunscreen database.

5. Cut down on fatty meat and high-fat dairy products. Long-lasting cancer-causing pollutants like dioxins and PCBs accumulate in the food chain and concentrate in animal fat.

6. Eat EWG’s Clean 15. Many pesticides have been linked to cancer. Eating from EWG’s Clean 15 list of the least contaminated fruits and vegetables will help cut your pesticide exposures.

7. Cut your exposures to BPA. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic estrogen found in some hard plastic water bottles, canned infant formula, and canned foods. It may increase the risk of reproductive system cancers. To avoid it, eat fewer canned foods, breast feed your baby or use powdered formula, and choose water bottles free of BPA.

8. Avoid carcinogens in cosmetics. Use EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetic database ( to find products free of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer. When you’re shopping, don’t buy products that list ingredients with “PEG” or “-eth” in their name.

9. Read the warnings. Some products list warnings of cancer risks – read the label before you buy. Californians will see a “Proposition 65” warning label on products that contain chemicals the state has identified as cancer-causing.

– Courtesy of The Environmental Working Group,

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She and her husband, Captain Vacuum, own Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company. Contact her at

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