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Americans are suffering “grievous harm” from environmental and occupational carcinogens, according to a new government report.

The 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel called Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk – What We Can Do Now, found that Americans, even before birth, are exposed continually to dangerous toxins in our food, water and air.

In 2009, approximately 1.5 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer and 562,000 died from the disease. Research and prevention are important because 41% of U.S. residents will get cancer in their lifetimes and 21% of the population will die from it.

The Panel compiled the report and developed their conclusions after studying environmental cancer research, policy and programs, and hearing testimony from 45 experts from academia, government, industry, the environmental and cancer advocacy communities, and the public.

“With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread,” the report said. “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.”

Sources of these harmful carcinogens, including chemicals and radiation, are all around us. From emissions of the cars and planes we use for transportation, pesticides on food, chemicals in food packaging and consumer products, medical devices used in our healthcare, radon seeping from the ground and the sun shining, we suffer constant exposure to environmental factors that may contribute to cancer development. This exposure may increase cancer risk by interfering with hormone production and function, causing inflammation, damaging DNA, affecting genes and the immune system.

While everyone is at risk, research has shown that women often have higher levels of toxic substances in their bodies than men, and children are especially susceptible because of their smaller body mass and rapid physical development. Parents exposure prior to a child’s conception, can affect the child. Toxins can also pass from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“Tests of umbilical cord blood found traces of nearly 300 pollutants in newborns’ bodies, such as chemicals used in fast-food packaging, flame retardants present in household dust, and pesticides,” the report said.

People who work in occupations such as manufacturing, mining or agriculture, where they may come into frequent contact with chemicals, are at an increased risk of developing occupational related cancers from toxin exposure.

The Panel outlined recommendations to identify and reduce cancer-causing agents in our environment.

“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,” the panel said in a letter to President Obama.

What can you do right now to reduce your exposure to these toxins? Ten Ways the Panel recommends:

  1. Reduce children’s exposure before conception, during pregnancy and in growing years. Parents should choose foods, house and garden products, play spaces, toys, medicines and medical tests that will minimize the exposure to toxins.
  2. Remove shoes before entering the home and wash work clothes separate from other laundry.
  3. Use glass, stainless steel or BPA and phthalate free containers for food and drinks.
  4. Choose food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and free-range meats raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.
  5. Properly dispose of chemicals, paints and other household hazardous waste and quit using pesticides and chemical fertilizers that seep into drinking water supplies.
  6. Turn off electrical devices and lights when not in use, bicycle, walk, drive a fuel-efficient vehicle or use public transportation.
  7. Don’t use tobacco products
  8. Avoid holding a cell phone to your head, use the speakerphone, headset or text instead. Keep calls brief.
  9. Work with your physician to carefully monitor and reduce radiation received from medical sources.
  10. Avoid sun exposure, including indoor tanning.

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