LIMIT EXPOSURES TO
ENVIRONMENTAL RISK FACTORS
There are many other cancer risk factors in our environment,
including environmental pollutants and occupational
cancer-causing agents ( 87) (see Figure 3, p. 24). It can
be difficult for people to avoid or reduce their exposure
to many of these factors. Therefore, it is imperative that
policies are put in place to ensure that everyone lives and
works in a safe and healthy environment.
In the United States, some policies that help protect people
from known cancer risk factors have been in place for several
decades. For example, there are numerous policies to help
prevent exposure to asbestos, which can cause mesothelioma,
an aggressive type of cancer for which there remain few
treatment options ( 88). There are also guidelines for reducing
exposure to radon gas, which is released from rocks, soil, and
building materials and is the second most common cause
of lung cancer in the United States after cigarette smoking
( 89). That said, compliance with these guidelines is not
mandatory. It is estimated that about one in every 15 U.S.
homes has radon levels at or above 4 picocuries per liter
of air, which is the level at which the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking action ( 89).
As we learn more about environmental and occupational
cancer risk factors and identify segments of the U.S.
population exposed to these, we need to develop and
implement new and/or more effective policies. We also
need to do more worldwide to limit exposure to well-established environmental and occupational cancer risk
factors such as asbestos.
One environmental pollutant that was recently classified by
the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),
Growing knowledge of the environmental pollutants to
which different segments of the U.S. population are exposed
highlights new opportunities for education and policy
initiatives to improve public health. For example, arsenic
exposure is a well-established cause of bladder cancer. A
recent study identified drinking water containing low-
to-moderate levels of arsenic, obtained from shallow-dug
private wells, as a potential contributor to the elevated
incidence of bladder cancer that has been documented in
New England for more than 5 decades ( 91).
In other cases, increasing knowledge of the presence of
environmental pollutants in certain geographic regions
emphasizes the need for more research to inform the future
development and implementation of education and policy
initiatives. For example, researchers recently found elevated
levels of uranium and other heavy metals in abandoned mines
in northeastern Arizona and are now investigating how this
might affect nearby Native American communities ( 92).
Five new research centers
to improve health in U.S. communities
overburdened by pollution and other
environmental factors that contribute
to health disparities are being funded
by a partnership between the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) and the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
For more information go to: https://www.nih.gov/
U.S. lung cancer deaths could
be prevented each year if radon
levels in every home were reduced
below the level at which the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) recommends taking action
( 4 picocuries per liter of air) ( 89).