7
Cancer and the Environment: A View from the Hill

John Porter

It is a pleasure to provide at this workshop a perspective of the policymaker regarding medical research and the relationship of cancer and the environment. Over the years, I’ve learned so much about public health and environmental health from the CDC, NIEHS, academicians, and others. We have made many advances, and conferences such as this one help to raise awareness in the Congress about cancer and the environment and suggest strategies to lay the groundwork for congressional support of additional investments in research and, where appropriate, in improving prevention efforts.

Environmental health concerns continue to be on the mind of the public. The greatest concern of most Americans, and this includes most members of Congress, is with the well-being of children in this country. I am sure that many of you had an opportunity to watch the Bill Moyer’s special Trade Secrets, which accused the chemical industry of knowingly releasing carcinogens that exposed the American people, or the Julia Roberts film Erin Brokovich. Programs such as these continue to reach out to and educate the American public about the importance of the environment and their health.

My own particular interest in cancer and the environment began when I participated in the visit of a congressional delegation to Poland. We went to the children’s hospital in Krakow, Poland, where I saw hundreds of children afflicted with cancer and learned that the probable cause was their exposure to heavy metals at apparently hundreds of times the permitted exposure in our own country. This interest led Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and myself to jointly sponsor a special congressional hearing on children’s health and the environment. While cancer was not the only illness covered, it was clearly the principal focus of the conference.

Congress and the administration have a strong commitment to funding basic medical research, including research in environmental health concerns. This is



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Cancer and the Environment: Gene-Enviroment Interaction 7 Cancer and the Environment: A View from the Hill John Porter It is a pleasure to provide at this workshop a perspective of the policymaker regarding medical research and the relationship of cancer and the environment. Over the years, I’ve learned so much about public health and environmental health from the CDC, NIEHS, academicians, and others. We have made many advances, and conferences such as this one help to raise awareness in the Congress about cancer and the environment and suggest strategies to lay the groundwork for congressional support of additional investments in research and, where appropriate, in improving prevention efforts. Environmental health concerns continue to be on the mind of the public. The greatest concern of most Americans, and this includes most members of Congress, is with the well-being of children in this country. I am sure that many of you had an opportunity to watch the Bill Moyer’s special Trade Secrets, which accused the chemical industry of knowingly releasing carcinogens that exposed the American people, or the Julia Roberts film Erin Brokovich. Programs such as these continue to reach out to and educate the American public about the importance of the environment and their health. My own particular interest in cancer and the environment began when I participated in the visit of a congressional delegation to Poland. We went to the children’s hospital in Krakow, Poland, where I saw hundreds of children afflicted with cancer and learned that the probable cause was their exposure to heavy metals at apparently hundreds of times the permitted exposure in our own country. This interest led Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and myself to jointly sponsor a special congressional hearing on children’s health and the environment. While cancer was not the only illness covered, it was clearly the principal focus of the conference. Congress and the administration have a strong commitment to funding basic medical research, including research in environmental health concerns. This is

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Cancer and the Environment: Gene-Enviroment Interaction evident from the continual increase in the budgets for basic research. We won’t know the actual budget until the work comes out of the subcommittee, but one cannot assume that there will be another 15 percent increase for the National Institutes of Health. We continue to hope and work for this number, but it should not be viewed as a “done deal.” Similarly, we need to be concerned about the budget numbers for the CDC and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The question also remains about funding for the physical sciences. We need researchers to step up to bat to defend the importance of both the life science and the physical science research budgets. Environmental issues are ascendant in Washington. They will have a central focus in next year’s political campaigns. Issues such as CO2, arsenic in drinking water, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and energy production will continue to be of interest to the American public. Governmental effects on health will continue to be of growing concern and will require further research. I would want to see new language in the reports that accompany the House and Senate appropriations bills this year. I would want to see that language carried over to the statement of the managers that accompanies the final conference report on the bills funding the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (and, therefore, the National Science Foundation). I would want to see language that expresses congressional concern and urges additional research and greater attention to cancer and the environment, in particular a focus on the genetic component and its interaction with environmental factors. In order to accomplish the latter, the participants of this workshop should devote some attention to strategies for increasing government awareness and increasing resources for this research into gene–environment interactions.