Illness Prevention And The EPA
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Bill Couzens, National Cancer Prevention Workshop Photo by Vincent Ricardel Photo

Scott Pruitt, the current Attorney General of Oklahoma, has been nominated to run the EPA, subject to a Senate vote in the next 24 hours. Many advocacy groups have produced long and well-documented lists of why Pruitt should not be managing the environment. Beyond the environmental mandate, the EPA also has a significant role in the work for preventing illness, and in some cases cancer.

Whoever ends up running the EPA needs to understand the far-reaching impacts on the public’s health. It’s not just what’s about in your backyard, neighborhood, parks or community, but also what is allowed to get inside your bodies, and your children’s bodies.

Cancer, while touching us all in personal and unique ways, is a global burden. We all can have a role in working to stem the increasing incidences of cancer; leadership on all levels, both legislatively and in corporate America, must be engaged to do whatever they can to work toward reducing cancer risk. That’s why for me the EPA battle is a headline.

If the notion of “less government” is “less regulation,” then Pruitt’s selection makes sense. However, it leaves me scratching my head, as the full context is missing. The idea of less regulation in this sense means that the burden of illness that could result will be left to the public to mop up.

Increasing evidence points to the fact that more than 50 percent of all cancers are preventable, meaning that most cancers are not exclusively related to inherited genes. If we are ever going to be able to get a handle on cancer, we must stay focused on protecting the next generation, so our actions today will have a lasting impact.

Consumers, as it is, are not well protected nor do many understand the EPA’s increasing role in protecting consumers from the many harmful chemicals in cleaning agents, personal care products, cosmetics, and many other consumer items.

We have plenty of examples of where we need a better, stronger EPA, not just for the environment but also for public health in general. We cannot allow deregulation that favors corporate profit over human health.

We have seen what has happened with the PFOA crisis. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, is a man-made chemical. It is used in making Teflon. PFOA can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. We are now seeing it in local water supplies. Earlier prevention, by the likes of the EPA, would have had a major impact on keeping that chemical away from human contact.

If personally not moved by human suffering and loss, governing bodies needs to understand the dollar-saving benefits when we work to prevent illness.

The EPA has not been a perfect regulatory agency, but it has helped make the country, and the world, a cleaner and healthier place. It needs strong and visionary leadership.

The agency has indeed prevented illness and saved lives. While not a perfect organization, it can be made stronger, smarter and more efficient in protecting human health. It is not a win to pave over all of the work the agency has done to date.

The EPA has a vital role in protecting the health of our children, preventing illness and saving lives.

Let’s not throw that away.

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