THE BLOG
08/01/2013 01:13 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2013

Reset the Clock on Cancer: Tell the Senate to Fix Our Chemical Laws

What would you do to prevent someone you love from getting breast cancer? To keep your sister, mother, daughter or son safe from this devastating disease that has touched millions of people? The greatest opportunity to prevent breast cancer is identifying and eliminating the environmental causes of the disease, including exposures to toxic chemicals.

Hope that we can change the course of cancer for future generations is the most compelling reason why all of us should tell our senators to fix our broken chemical system that prohibits? women -- and all of us -- from living healthy lives.

Toxic chemicals, found in everything from cleaners to furniture to plastics, endlessly bombard our bodies and take a toll on our health. A strong and rapidly growing consensus from the scientific community has determined that chemicals in everyday products are linked to diseases and disorders that persist or are on the rise in the population, including breast cancer, infertility, asthma and more.

This week Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is convening a full-day hearing with experts in public health about how to fix our broken chemicals system. The failure of the law governing chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act, (TSCA) stems from a number of factors, including the very basic flaw that chemicals don't have to be proven safe first before they are brought to market. Any meaningful reform of TSCA must shift the burden of proof to industry to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals they manufacture and market. Another major problem is that the EPA is powerless to block unsafe chemicals from use. In the 37 years since TSCA was passed, the EPA has been able to require safety testing for only 200 chemicals; only five have been banned or restricted.

TSCA's track record for assuring chemical safety has been a disaster.

Breast cancer offers particularly significant insight to the real-world health impacts of unregulated chemical exposures. Today 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. That's a 40 percent increase since TSCA's passage. A large majority of breast cancer cases occur in women with no family history of the disease. Nearly 40,000 women will die from the disease this year. Breast cancer is so pervasive, there's probably not a person in America who doesn't know a woman or man who is suffering from breast cancer or one of the 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in America.

What we now understand about cancer and chemicals upends the discredited, decades-old thinking about chemical exposures embodied in TSCA.

First, we now know that the timing of exposure to chemicals matters. During certain stages of life, including prenatally, in early childhood and during puberty, chemical exposures can be particularly harmful. To give women and their children the best chance for healthy lives, we must do more to protect pregnant women from toxic chemicals.

Scientific research has also found that even low doses of chemicals can be harmful; no longer is the old principle that "the dose makes the poison" necessarily applicable. Some chemicals, particularly those that mimic natural hormones and disrupt our endocrine system, can have a more profound impact at lower exposure levels. Much more needs to be known about these substances, but without strong testing requirements in TSCA, we will continue to be exposed to these chemicals without fully understanding their impacts.

More can be done to prevent breast cancer and diseases linked to the bewildering variety of toxic chemicals we are exposed to every day.

Looking ahead, we need to reset the clock to a time when the public was not exposed to 84,000 unregulated chemicals, a time when mothers didn't have to worry about their daughters entering puberty before they graduated from elementary school, a time when poor women and women of color didn't face high rates of breast cancer fatalities.

Tell your senators to reset the clock on cancer by supporting a new chemicals policy that takes the bold, but necessary step of prioritizing health to protect all of us at all stages of our lives.