THE BLOG
05/10/2010 02:22 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Link and a Blink

President Obama:

The.... true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated....The panel urges you 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."

Some strong words coming from a report issued today by the Presidential panel on cancer.

Linking cancer to environmental causes rather than lifestyle marks a major reversal from previous reports, and stands out as an alarm raised by a governmental group -- making its voice heard officially and urgently.

I read a preview last night by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Since this report affects every person on the planet, I envisioned this as a Blink moment -- for the globe.

In a way it was -- Blink and you could have missed the story. Even before the stock market tanked.

To be fair, it was a big news day. Though the report surely stirred up controversy and conversation in the industries involved, most consumers would have to search to find it buried beneath stories on Lawrence Taylor's arrest, and a cow stuck on a roof.

Seriously. I hoped for another type of Blink -- the concept coined by Malcolm Gladwell -- describing the power of the instinct; the instant conclusions the mind makes in about 2 seconds.

To me it seems instinctive to understand that the use of chemicals produces results that are sometimes desirable, sometimes dangerous. In 2010 it's hard to imagine that a presidential panel should have to push for action about something that seems as clear as our rivers and lakes used to be.

The presidential panel that issued this report was created when the war on cancer began during the Nixon administration in 1971. At that time, one in 12 women would get breast cancer in her lifetime. Today that is one in 7. Thyroid cancer was once rare; today cases are skyrocketing and scientists have no idea why. In 1960 the chances of getting the most dangerous form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, were one in 600. By 2000 the chances had leaped to one case per 74 people. Today, the odds are one in 58. And experts say the alarming increases cannot all be explained by earlier screening, smoking, diet or lifestyle.

Hopefully the strong words delivered by this panel will turn into strong action -- beginning with the passage of the 2010 Toxic Chemicals Safety Act. This was recently introduced in Congress, expanding the public's right to know about the health risks of chemicals -- and requiring industry to prove they are safe.

Besides pressing representatives to pass the act, the average citizen can at the very least heed the panel's warning and follow the recommendations to take action on their own -- filter water, eat organic, read labels. I'm not a scientist, but I don't think you need to be in order to see there's a link between chemicals and cancer -- just Blink.