Earlier this week, Nicholas D. Kristof published an article entitled “The Cancer Lobby” in The New York Times, in which he criticized the chemical industry for its intense lobbying efforts to prevent dangerous chemicals from being listed as known cancer-causing agents in the Report on Carcinogens (RoC).
The RoC is a biennial report prepared by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of the National Institutes of Health. The RoC lists chemicals that are either “known carcinogens” or are “reasonably anticipated to be carcinogens.” Congress required publication of the RoC in the Public Health Service Act of 1978 because of growing concerns among Americans about potential cancer-causing substances in their environment.
Although the chemical industry has protested the RoC process in the past, the most recent controversy surrounds two chemicals found in many household products: formaldehyde and styrene. Formaldehyde is used in plywood, carpeting, and insulation, and it's also found in many car parts. Styrene can be found in food containers, pipes, and carpet backing.
In 2011, NTP added formaldehyde to the list of known carcinogens; the chemical had been listed as “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer since 1981. Also in 2011, NTP listed styrene as an anticipated carcinogen for the first time.
The ROC does not regulate any products or businesses. Nevertheless, the chemical industry fights cancer designations in the RoC because, as Kristof explains,” it fears ‘public confusion.’” Translation: big chemical companies like Dow and DuPont and their trade association, the American Chemistry Council, fear that people will buy safer alternatives once they learn about the dangers of the chemicals found in everyday items.
Kristof points out that the chemical industry is using the same playbook that the tobacco industry and asbestos manufacturers used in the past. A group of 76 prominent scientists wrote a letter
warning Congress that “‘[t]he American Chemistry Council is working to delay and ultimately destroy’ the Report on Carcinogens.” The industry has spent millions of dollars
lobbying Congress to stop the RoC process, successfully enlisting Rep. Danny Rehberg (R-MT) to offer an appropriations rider
that would delay the RoC for several years. Previous riders attempting to delay the RoC process have failed; however, similar riders are likely to appear in future legislation.
Kristof’s article reveals how the chemical industry would leave workers and the public in the dark about the cancer threat posed by chemicals like formaldehyde and styrene to preserve its bottom line.