As a Catholic and as an American, I am especially delighted that Pope Francis will soon visit the United States. His is an inspiring and provocative leader of the Catholic Church, and he has already spoken out on some of the most challenging issues of our time.
In June 2015, Pope Francis issued a 184-page encyclical, an official Church statement -- entitled "Laudato Si" or "Praise Be to You" -- to emphasize the crisis posed by climate change. In this statement, the pope highlights the harms caused by the unfettered application of technology and profit-seeking of the world's industrialized nations. While he praises advancements in engineering, science and medicine, he warns that "our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience."
I applaud the pope's strong stance on climate change and the need to preserve the earth for future generations. When we speak of maintaining clean water supplies and a sustainable use of the environment, we should also stress the elimination of harmful chemicals in consumer products.
Currently, in the United States, consumer products including personal care products (shampoo, toothpaste, body cleansers), cosmetics, clothing, furniture, toys and pesticides frequently contain chemicals that are linked to cancer and other diseases. Because the federal government has not been able to protect consumers from these toxic chemicals, several states have taken action to protect their own populations. California has lead the way with its Safer Consumer Products legislation. New York and other states have taken certain protective actions, and are considering more comprehensive regulations to protect consumers.
Where industry is permitted to sell products that can harm consumers, it is the responsibility of government to intervene to protect and preserve the public's health.
The United States Toxic Substances Control Act, (TSCA) enacted in 1976, has never been updated or reformed. At the time it was created, chemicals manufactured in the United States were considered to be safe in general. Forty years of research and experience have demonstrated that is not the case, and in fact, many chemicals found in everyday household items are raising the risk for cancer, diabetes, asthma, and causing abnormalities of fertility and human gestational development. Isn't it time that industry accepts its responsibility of producing products that are safe for its consumers?
The "Millenium Development Goals,"* as set forth by the United Nations in 2000, does not include the goal of ending cancer. And yet, cancer incidence rates in the United States continue to rise, and we still lose too many people each year to cancer. In the U.S. alone, predictions for 2015 are that there will be 1,658,370 new cases of cancer in 2015, and 589,430 deaths due to cancer. Throughout the world, cancer affects the rich and poor, especially where cigarette smoking is rampant. Cancer prevention efforts involving HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines and the institution of healthy diets, adequate exercise and protection of skin from the sun are messages that may not reach the poorest among us.
Over 50 percent of all cancer is preventable, according to scientific research. Less Cancer, a not-for-profit organization, educates and motivates people throughout the world to adopt healthy lifestyle practices, including diet, exercise and stress management, that will reduce cancer risk. It also supports efforts to protect the public from cancer-causing chemicals in many consumer products. Bill Couzens, founder of Less Cancer, says: "Never before have we had so much cancer, and now is the time that legislators can actually make a difference by placing human health first above money and greed."
Perhaps, with the pope's leadership, the international community will embrace the goal of ending of cancer. Imagine the progress that could be made by gathering together the world's scientists, engineers, physicians, oncologists, epidemiologists and more in a super-team effort to end cancer. Imagine a world where industry would create consumer products, pesticides, and other manufactured goods that use safe alternatives to chemicals causing harm to humans and the environment. Imagine being able to predict and prevent cancer before it starts. If we gather the world's talent and expertise in a committed, targeted effort, great progress is possible. We have nothing to lose, and much to gain, by trying.
*In 2000, the United Nations hosted the Millennium Summit and generated eight international development goals, called the Millennium Development Goals. These goals targeted the year 2015:
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development