Delusions, Illusions and Ongoing Neglect of Hazard Recognition, Regulation and Control of Industrial Carcinogens

Stellman, Jeanne M.; Stellman, Steven D.

Since Doll and Peto’s 1981 monograph on causes of cancer, periodic efforts have been made to re-estimate the numbers and percentages of cancer cases “attributable” to various types of environmental and occupational exposures. We argue that much of this effort, especially in the occupational realm, is wasted, not because the information is not worth knowing, but because governmental initiatives to carry out needed studies, translate them into recommendations, and generate and enforce standards have been badly eroded and the system created by passage of occupational health and safety laws in the latter part of the twentieth century has become largely dysfunctional. For example, whereas NIOSH released over eighty criteria documents between 1975 and 1990, it published only one between 2000 and 2006. Furthermore, the increasing complexity of chemical products and potential exposures have made many classical risk assessment paradigms obsolete, while the fragmented nature of the work force and the rapidly increasing globalization of chemically-dependent industries has made epidemiological studies of workplace hazards increasingly difficult. We advocate replacement of chemical-by-chemical exposure standards with standards focused on process safety management, increasingly based on structure-activity relationships for chemicals for which human toxicity is not yet known.



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Reviews on Environmental Health

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Academic Units
Health Policy and Management
Published Here
August 22, 2014


From Steven Stellman: The President's Cancer Panel is a three-person panel that reports annually to the President of the United States on the development and execution of the National Cancer Program. The Panel’s task in 2008-09 was to “examine the impact of environmental factors on cancer risk,” taking into consideration industrial, occupational, and agricultural exposures as well as exposures related to medical practice, military activities, modern lifestyles, and natural sources. They were also asked to identify key regulatory, political, industrial, and cultural barriers to understanding and reducing environmental and occupational carcinogenic exposures. In an invited address to the Panel, we point out that this exercise has been carried out many times over the past few decades but has produced very little new information about risks or principles of occupational hazard control, and that implementation of long known process safety management procedures would go a long way towards reducing real risks to workers.