Bomshell of a document(Grist/iStockphoto)A new government report [PDF] suggests that comedian Bill Maher was on to something when he joked in an interview last year with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that “America causes cancer.”

The report, released today, says that thousands of industrial chemicals in our environment are indeed making Americans sick, and its findings cannot be easily dismissed. It originates “not from the fringe but from the mission control of mainstream scientific and medical thinking, the President’s Cancer Panel,” as Times columnist Nick Kristof observes. The four-decades-old panel comprises three distinguished experts who review America’s cancer program and report directly to the president. 

While the report is disturbing to say the least, I couldn’t be happier that our government is starting to recognize the toxic stew that surrounds us. Forgive the long quotes, but this is must-read stuff (via Reuters):

Americans are being “bombarded” with chemicals, gases and radiation that can cause cancer, and the federal government must do far more to protect them, presidential cancer advisers said on Thursday.

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Although as many as two-thirds of cancer cases are caused by lifestyle choices like smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise, the panel said many avoidable cancers were also caused by pollution, radon from the soil and medical imaging scans.

Since so little is known about the possible risks of cell phones, people would be prudent to wear headsets and make calls quickly, the two members of the panel advised.

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“The panel was particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated,” they wrote in the report, available at

…”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,” it adds.

“The American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures,” Kripke and Leffall wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama at top of the report.

“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 healthcare costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

Yes, the proper response to this report is fear and anger. There’s not much more to add, really. No doubt, industry front groups like the American Council on Science and Health will scream bloody murder. And I have serious doubts if our government, shot through with corporate influence, has the will to address this in a comprehensive way, although Sen Frank Lautenberg’s Kid-safe Chemicals Act would be a good place to start.

Notably, the report specifically recommends that individuals can minimize cancer risk by eating organic food, drinking filtered water and avoiding plastic containers. I guess the USDA Organic label represents a health claim after all…