Health scientists sign on to tell Congress not to strip funding for the Report on Carcinogens

Over 70 health scientists from around the country signed a letter to Congress asking them to reject attempts by the chemical industry to defund and delay the Report on Carcinogens (ROC), a scientific list of chemicals and substances that pose a cancer risk to people. Scientists from across disciplines signed on their support, including physicians, nurses, toxicologists, epidemiologists, occupational health experts, environmental scientists, industrial hygienists, retired government scientists, and professors.

The scientists’ goal is to convince Congress to reject a House budget rider that would strip funding for the ROC unless and until its process and criteria for listing chemicals has been reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). This rider (on page 52 of the House fiscal year 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill) follows a years-long strategy by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), representing its membership of chemical manufacturers, to defend its cancer-causing products and undermine the credibility of the ROC.

Benzene, butadiene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, asbestos – with friends like these, who needs enemies? (see ROC list here) ACC continues to use its Congressional allies to try to block public information on the health harms of toxic chemicals, including cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, and chronic disease. If this rider is passed, the next Report would be delayed at least several years (see fact sheet on the ROC and this issue here).

The ROC issues important information to the public, so that we can avoid unsafe exposures, not only to chemicals but to other cancer-causing agents such as radiation, tobacco smoke, and viruses like hepatitis and human papillomaviruses.

“The chemical industry is unhappy when a substance like formaldehyde or styrene is listed in the Report on Carcinogens, and their response has been to blame the messenger,” said Dr. Adam Finkel, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). "But a lengthy and inclusive process has led to these evidence-based determinations.  We are calling on Congress not to play along and to instead defend the Report on Carcinogens from special interest attacks.”

As the scientists’ letter points out, “The ROC follows an extensive multi-step process that includes independent external peer review, expert advisory reviews, and ample opportunity for public comment. This is among the most transparent chemical evaluation processes in government. The science staff that develops the ROC conducts extensive reviews of the scientific literature that includes three interagency reviews, six opportunities for public comment, and two external expert scientific reviews including one by its Board of Scientific Counselors which represents industry, government, and academic scientists.”

The House rider is part of a targeted campaign prompted by the ROC’s listing of formaldehyde and styrene as posing a risk of cancer – two industrial chemicals that no one wants to breathe. This past spring, my colleague, Daniel Rosenberg, predicted this rider, saying: “Next will come letters to Secretary Sebelius [HHS] ... parroting [ACC’s] letter and similarly calling for suspension of the 13th Report on Carcinogens.  Those letters will presumably be as inaccurate and irresponsible as those sent to Secretary Sebelius last fall by a number of key Senators. The letters from members of Congress will then provide the “justification” for including in some legislative vehicle a secret rider that will “temporarily” suspend the Report on Carcinogens, until the industry can get it eliminated permanently.” How right you were, Daniel.

ACC’s attack on the public’s right to know about the hazardous chemicals we are exposed to in our everyday lives is an outrage. Without this public scientific information, government regulators, small businesses, green chemistry companies, product fabricators, and retailers cannot move the product supply chain towards safer products. Physicians cannot accurately diagnose and treat poisoned patients. And parents cannot protect their families from unnecessary toxic exposures.

(see links to the Scientists' letters here, and a fact sheet on the ROC and this issue here)

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Health program

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