U.S. To Adopt Stricter Cancer
Guidelines for Kids
By J.R. Pegg
March 4, 2003 (ENS) - The final draft of revised U.S. federal guidelines
for cancer risk assessment assumes that children are more vulnerable to
the effects of certain carcinogens than adults. It is the first time the
U.S. government has officially accepted this position.
The move could change the
way the federal government devises rules and policies to limit the
American public's exposure to environmental pollutants.
"This is a really big step
and has far reaching implications for protecting children's health," said
Jane Houlihan, vice president of research for Environmental Working Group,
a non profit environmental research organization.
"The government's message is
simple. Children are at greater risk from exposure to carcinogens than
The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's (EPA) final draft of new guidelines for cancer risk
assessment, released yesterday, "explicitly recognizes that variation
exists among people in their susceptibility to carcinogens."
The final draft considers
children age two and younger to have 10 times the cancer risk of adults
when exposed to mutagenic carcinogens, which cause cancer through direct
damage to DNA.
Children age two through 15
would be considered to have three times the risk of adults.
include arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, mutagen X, brominated organics and
polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
EPA's guidelines for
carcinogen risk assessment are the framework for agency scientists to
assess possible cancer risks from exposures to environmental pollutants.
They are used throughout the federal government to evaluate risks from
These guidelines have not
been updated since they were first issued in 1986 and the current review
is intended to make greater use of the increasing scientific understanding
of risks from carcinogens.The proposed updates to these guidelines could
prompt reevaluation of existing standards.
For its review, EPA analyzed
23 peer reviewed studies of cancer incidence from the past 50 years.
There is increasing
scientific evidence that children face much higher cancer risks from
exposure to environmental pollutants than adults.
(Photo courtesy The National Children's Cancer Society)
Environmentalists and public
health advocates said the new guidance is a good first step, but some are
concerned it does not consider gender differences in cancer risks and
worried that it could allow new guidelines for adult risks to carcinogens
to be weakened.
And EPA has evidence that
supports increasing the risk standard for children even further, Houlihan
The figure of 10 times used
by EPA for children under two years of age is the average of its analysis,
but some mutagenic carcinogens have been shown to be some 65 times more
potent when exposure occurs during childhood.
EPA data shows that half of
lifetime cancer risk accumulates in the first two years of life, Houlihan
said, and the agency should extend its guidance to cover carcinogens that
act through other mechanisms than mutagenicity, such as phthalates and
"The guidelines need to
extend to all carcinogens," said Houlihan.
EPA's review finds not
enough available data to determine cancer risk assessment from non
mutagenic carcinogens for specific segments of the population. It suggests
that a variety of approaches still need to be developed and additional
research is required.
carcinogens are 65 times more potent when exposure occurs during
childhood. (Photo courtesy Hugs and Hope)
The increasing scientific
evidence that children face higher risks from exposure to carcinogens
prompted the agency to release for public review and comment draft
supplemental guidance for assessing early life exposure to carcinogens.
The supplemental guidance is
part of the agency's response to a 1994 recommendation by the National
Research Council that "EPA should assess risks to infants and children
whenever it appears that their risks might be greater than those of
The final draft guidelines
on risk assessment, according to EPA, reflect many of the comments and
suggestions provided to EPA by public and independent scientific peer
The public can submit
comments on the proposed guidelines through May 1, 2003. They will take
effect after a final review by an independent scientific advisory board.
More information on the
proposed guidelines can be found at:
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