Workers Inadequately Protected, President’s Cancer Panel Told

The President’s Cancer Panel was recently told that the government has been lax in protecting workers against the hazards of known cancer-causing substances. Jeanne Mager Stellman, PhD, professor and chair of environmental and occupational health sciences at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, addressed the panel in a meeting in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in mid-September. She holds that rather than due to help from the government, voices from the private sector in the form of trade unions and health advocates were the real driving forces behind the effective reduction in asbestos use over recent years. Other carcinogens such as PCBs have no private sector champion as of yet and hence continue to cause problems due to government oversight in preventing the public, especially workers, from being poisoned by them. Rather than stopping their use and saving the health of workers who come in contact with these known carcinogens, Dr. Stellman believes that the government has spent too much time in researching exactly how these substances cause cancer.

According to Dr. Stellman, “While we as a society have been debating and delaying and have been occupying ourselves with setting up straw man arguments about incidence and attributable risk, more and more chemicals have been introduced into commerce and have remained largely unmonitored and unregulated.” She would like the federal government get to its task of helping the people. No good will come from workers who must risk their lives to do their jobs by forcing them to daily come in contact with cancer-causing elements such as asbestos and PCBs. Referring to it as “ongoing industrial manslaughter”, Dr. Stellman urged the President’s Cancer Panel to stop the infighting which has prevented government action. She would like to see less talk and more work done to preserve the health and safety of American workers.