After a long-delayed process, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added eight new substances to its Report on Carcinogens, which categorizes the known cancer risks of various substances and guides regulatory decisions about their use in consumer products. There are now 240 substances on the list. Concern about exposure is generally highest for those who work with the chemicals, and concern is less for consumers exposed to smaller amounts of the chemicals in consumer products. Exposures may increase risk but don't necessarily cause cancer, and an individual's genetic makeup, together with other risk factors, will determine risk. Still, given the known risks and the multitude of chemicals Americans are exposed to, many will want to reduce their risk by reducing their exposure.
"Reducing exposure to cancer-causing agents is something we all want, and the Report on Carcinogens provides important information on substances that pose a cancer risk," Linda Birnbaum, director of both the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, said in a prepared statement announcing the additions to the report.
The chemical industry reacted caustically to the report, with the American Chemistry Council stating that it was "concerned that politics may have hijacked the scientific process," but health and environmental watchdogs said that amounted to "the pot calling the kettle black", as an Environmental Defense Fund scientist put it.
Here's a quick summary of the addition to the list of cancer-causing substances, with those most likely to be of interest to consumers listed first:
Substances already on this list, which numbers more than 50, include cigarette smoke, radon, ultraviolet radiation, benzene, coal tar and asbestos. The new additions are:
Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde has been a concern for environmental and health watchdogs for years. It is found in a wide variety of consumer products, from building and home improvement supplies like particle board, flooring carpets, cabinets and countertops; to children's and baby products like cribs, shoes and shampoos; to beauty products like nail polishes, "Brazilian blowout" hair treatments and other cosmetics.
Aristolochic acids: Aristolochic acids are botanicalical extracts marketed in herbal treatments for ailments like arthritis, gout and inflammation. Despite a warning to avoid the ingredient from the Food and Drug Administration in 2001, these products are still for sale, particularly on the Internet.
Substances already on this list, which numbers nearly 200, include diesel exhaust, PCBs, "Perc" (used by dry cleaners) and acrylamide (which can form at food cooked at high temperatures). The new additions are:
Riddelliine: Riddelliine is a botanical extract found in daisies like ragwort and groundsel, and shouldn't be confused with the drug Ritalin. Consumers could be exposed in herbal medicines, teas and honeys.
Styrene: Styrene is used to make everything from rubber pipes and fiberglass insulation to carpet backing and automobile parts. It's best known as a component of foam plastics better known as Styrofoam (No. 6 plastics), but outside of industrial settings the biggest consumer exposure comes from tobacco smoke.
Certain inhalable glass wool fibers: These glass wool fibers are used in insulation, but the government states that "the largest use of general purpose glass wool is for home and building insulation, which appears to be less durable and less biopersistent, and thus less likely to cause cancer in humans.
Captafol: Captafol is a fungicide that had been used on fruit and vegetable crops, as well as on ornamental plants and lawns, until it was banned in the U.S. in 1999.
Cobalt-tungsten carbide: Cobalt-tungsten carbide (in powder or metal form) is used to make cutting and grinding tools, dyes, and wear-resistant products for industrial uses.
O-nitrotoluene: O-Nitrotoluene is used to make everything from dyes and explosives to pesticides and pharmaceucticals.
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