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June 14th, 2010

Prevention starts when we have enough evidence to act

At the heart of the recent President’s Cancer Panel report is a call for a precautionary approach to environmental contaminants and our exposure to them. Our federal agencies, the ones designed to protect us and promote public health, seem to have missed the memo on prevention—a precautionary measure.

Public health has been defined as the, “science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations – public and private – communities and individuals.” Disease prevention and health promotion are also guiding principles of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and even the Department of the Interior. So why is it that these governing bodies fail us over and over again?

You may recall the controversy over the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) from back in 2009. BPA isn’t the only endocrine disruptor to come under scrutiny during the past year. Triclosan, a pesticide, found in thousands of consumer care products, including toothpaste, hand soap and body wash has caught the public’s attention too. For years, Food & Water Watch and Beyond Pesticides have urged the EPA & FDA to ban the non-medical use of this product.

Triclosan degrades into dioxins, highly toxic and persistent contaminants, on exposure to sunlight. It is toxic to algae, the foundation of all aquatic life. But, the real tragedy is that triclosan need not be in any of the thousands of products on the consumer market. Why? Because FDA, the agency that regulates triclosan in hand soap and toothpaste, admits that triclosan is no more effective in preventing disease than plain soap and water.

Public health may be an imperfect science, but as the Cancer Panel’s report states: though the extent and mechanism of harm may be unknown, in many instances we have enough evidence to act. This is prevention. If only our agencies and the Administration would focus on this most basic tenet of health and wellness – healthcare costs; social programs and myriad other strains on our country; and especially the economy – might have a chance to subside.

-Kathy Dolan

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