From Environmental Health News:

By Rebecca Fuoco

Tanner, a 12-year-old from Clyde, Ohio, had a difficult school year. He was only able to attend a few weeks of school. Summer activities are also limited for Tanner, who cannot swim in public pools because his leukemia has left him with a diminished immune system.

Tanner and his older sister are among nearly 40 children from Sandusky County who have been diagnosed with cancer. The community of 62,000 has fought for answers to explain the series of child cancers that began a decade ago.

While cancer clusters are a nightmare for families and communities, they also are frustrating for state and local health officials. Cancer cluster investigations are notoriously difficult because of small budgets, the variety of factors involved in cancer development and the multitude of possible sources and exposures. They are almost always inconclusive.

Earlier this year, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced a bill known as “Trevor’s Law,” named after Trevor Schaefer, a brain cancer survivor who was diagnosed at the age of 13 and has worked to raise awareness of disease clusters and possible links to the environment.

This legislation would direct and fund federal agencies to assist state health officials in investigating potential clusters. It also would create science-based guidelines for cluster identification. The bill was sparked by rising rates of childhood cancer and the President’s Cancer Panel’s 2010 statement that the burden of environmentally-induced cancer is grossly underestimated.

Cancer clusters should indeed be a public policy concern. Forty-two cancer and other disease clusters in 13 states were recently identified by the Natural Resources Defense Council. All of them are suspected of being caused by toxic exposures in the community.

However, Trevor’s Law will yield little benefit unless there also is a significant change in the way chemicals are regulated in the United States.

The Toxic Substances Control Act is the federal law responsible for ensuring safety of industrial chemicals. Among its weaknesses is that it does not require chemical producers to provide data on a chemical’s environmental fate or toxicity before it is introduced into the market. Under the 1976 law, the Environmental Protection Agency may require the manufacturer to provide this information only if a chemical poses certain health or environmental risks. Even then, the procedures EPA must follow to obtain test data from companies can take years.

The EPA does not have the resources to routinely assess the hazards of 700 some chemicals introduced into commerce each year and companies very rarely voluntarily perform such testing. Accordingly, the vast majority of chemicals on the market today have not been tested for toxicity. Without access to scientific information on potential exposure routes, toxic mechanisms and health effects of at least 85,000 chemicals on the market today, it will remain exceedingly difficult for agencies to investigate clusters and their possible environmental causes.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which will begin to close the data gap by requiring chemical manufacturers to develop and make publicly available toxicity and exposure information for all chemicals. . . .


You can watch Trevor’s riveting testimony to the U.S. Senate (around 31:15) at this video link.

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