Americans are understandably concerned about the causes of cancer, and about whether exposure to common chemicals increases their risks. While anti-chemical activists seek to alarm the public regarding cancer risks from common chemicals, the best available data indicate that such risks are extremely low. As a result, there is little reason to believe that the more restrictive chemical regulations advanced by those activists would reduce cancer rates. Moreover, such regulations may undermine public health by eliminating many valuable and even life-saving products.
If everyday exposure to common chemicals were a significant cause of cancer, we would expect rates to go up as we used more and more chemicals. However, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that since 1975 cancer incidence has continued to decline among men and declined for women until 2006, after which rates stabilized.
Research suggests that most cancers are caused by tobacco use, diet, infections, and genetics. Although, long-term, relatively high level exposures to certain chemicals may pose cancer risks, there is little evidence demonstrating that the relatively low-level chemical exposures from consumer products pose significant risks.
Alarmism, however, about the relationship between cancer and chemicals can result in real harm: It distracts the public and researchers from focusing on the most significant cancer risks and encourages regulators to adopt rules that make our products more costly and in some cases less safe, while yielding little meaningful health benefits.