02/10/2012 10:21 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2012

Involuntary Exposure

The American Cancer Society (ACS) and to a lesser extent the federal government are low balling the threat of our involuntary exposure to suspected cancer-producing substances of industrial origin.

That is the view of Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of environmental health at the University of Illinois and for decades, an outspoken gadfly to the nation's cancer research establishment. It is that establishment which emphasizes diet and smoking as the major causes of cancer and the principle keys to its prevention. Epstein would not quarrel with that characterization, but the risks of those two behaviors are well publicized, giving the individual enough ammunition to make an educated choice.

Epstein's concern is with the industrial carcinogens imbedded in our air, water, food, and personal care products (particularly lotions and powders) that are largely unregulated and to which we are involuntarily exposed. His fears have had little resonance with the ACS and federal government researchers. Epstein suggests that could well be because the cancer medical establishment is the beneficiary of substantial cash contributions from industries that are the source of chemical carcinogens infiltrating our environment.

He considers it bordering on criminal that so many of the suspect cancer-producing substances contained in the products we use unsuspectingly on a daily basis are not more strictly regimented. Epstein is especially adamant in regard to children, because indications are that they are principle victims of this involuntary exposure. Their immune systems are not fully developed, and hence, more susceptible to toxic chemical exposure. That might explain why the incidence of cancer, usually a disease of old age, has increased by nearly 40 percent among the very young during the past three decades.

Under our political system, the most government can do to safeguard us from smoking and potentially other dangerous lifestyle choices that we have the wherewithal to reject on our own is to encourage us to do the right thing. But when it comes to industry imposing risks upon us without our knowledge, government has an obligation to use regulation to protect us from ourselves.

Dr. Epstein has it right!