Recent regulatory problems over substances like saccharin and Tris highlighted the growing interest in developing a federal prgram to identify and regulate potential cancer-causing substances, or carcinogens.
One of the major characters in the cast of the government officials calling for such a policy is Consumer Product Safety Commissio ner Barbara Franklin.
She has crossed the country in recent months giving speeches calling for a unified federal attack on the problem of chemicals and cancer. She asks two questions that beg to be answered:
"How do we improve public protection from cancer-causing substances? And, how do we assure government regulations protect the public without imposing unnecessary and unreasonable burdens on business and consumers?"
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, but as Franklin pointed out, "We find ourselves not knowing with certainty all the causes of cancer."
She noted one of the major problems in this area is inconsistent test results - different test are conducted by different companies or laboratories and show opposite results.
"These kinds of discrepencies in testing methods and reusults make it difficult for regulators to know which chemicals may pose potential hazards to the public." She told convention of college professors in Dallas in October.
In that speech she called for agree-mention "a battery of short-term tests to be run, standardizing the test methodologies and what test results mean."
She also called for a uniform definition of "carcinogen" and standardized methodologies for long term testing.
On crucial issue for regulators is "threshold level" - at what level can a carcinogenic compound have no effect on humans?
"If we knew for certain what these levels are for the compounds - or even if they exist, making decisions would be easiler," said Franklin. "But, again, certainly does nt exist, forcing regulators to act on the basis of the best information available."
She pointed out that the recent Food and Drug Administration action on saccharin, a ban that has since been delayed, was based on the Fia's Delaney Clause, which triggered an automatic ban when cancer is the issue.
"The laws administered by thr CPSC, on the other hand, do not contain a Delaney-type provision." Franklin said. "At our agency, regulation must follow a commission decision that a substance presents on "unreasonable risk" of injury, illness or death. Still other agencies have a different approach."
In light of the scientific and regulatiory inconsistencies she has pointed out. Franklin said, "The most compelling need as I see it, is to sharpen, broaden and unify the focus on carcinogens to pull our are act together, expand the cast ans shift the spotlight onto arriving at some better answers.
"We need more and better scientific information . . . intellignet and informed agency-by-agency action . . . close cooperation among the agencies, and strong, sustained and coorindinated national commitment and a plan of action to find better ways to bring the hazards down to size," she said.
Franklin expressed sympathy for those who are regulated under the present system. "We cannot blithely continue to mandate requirements if the substantial costs and other adverse side-effects they produce far outweigh the benefits."
In a speech at the Town Hall of California in Los Angeles earlier this month, Franklin renewed her call for action on cancer-causing drugs.
She called cancer "the six-letter word that probably summons more dread and fear in the minds of the American people than any other disease." Franklin warned that if the federal government does not soon come up with a concerted effort aimed at carcinogens, "We will be courting a crisis, even a calamity whose consequences stretch beyond the banned of the Potomac and into virtually [WORD ILLEGIBLE] home,community and workplace."
"What is at stake is the very real possibility that we stand on the threshold of reducing the ominous threat of cancer," she said. "At the same time, we face the possibility that havoc is at hand for the $100-billion-a-year chemical industry and for countless other industries which use chemical compounds in a variety of ways."
Federal involvement with chemicals and cancer transcends the lines of many agencies. Eight different agencies have some regulatory or reseacrh responsibilities, Franklin said.
She called for cooporation between those agencies to develop a constant effort, with a commitment of support from the White House.