Breast Cancer UK calls on Government to give the new National Institute for Health Protection responsibilities to regulate harmful chemicals

Today, Breast Cancer UK alongside our friends at ChemTrust, Alliance for Cancer Prevention, Women’s Environment Network and Pesticide Action Network have sent a joint letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock calling for urgent action to address the impact of harmful chemicals on the nation’s health.

In August, Matt Hancock announced that the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) would take over the responsibilities of Public Health England in driving the prevention of ill-health. Breast Cancer UK is calling for the NIHP to have direct responsibilities to monitor, research and regulate harmful chemicals to protect public health.

Today’s joint letter calls for urgent action to reduce public exposure to harmful chemicals linked to increased breast cancer and other serious health problems. This includes banning or restricting chemicals which may cause cancer, are toxic, and interfere with our endocrine (or hormone) system. These chemicals, known as endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs, are of particular concern as they may impact not only on our health but those of future generations.

According to the UN’s Global Chemicals Outlook, harmful chemicals such as EDCs are now “ubiquitous in humans and the environment”. EDCs found in everyday products end up in all of us – children and adults alike – contaminating our bodies without our consent or knowledge. We ingest them through food and drink, inhale them in the air we breathe and absorb them through our skin. Risk from harmful chemicals is often exacerbated when exposure occurs to especially vulnerable groups including infants, children and pregnant women.

The letter highlights how such chemicals, even at low concentrations, trigger chemical reactions in the body that increase our chances of suffering from chronic and lethal diseases. Diseases including hormone dependant cancers such as breast cancer, reproductive problems, developmental effects, and neuro-behavioural problems.

Despite mounting scientific evidence, public health and cancer prevention strategies, have failed to address environmental pollutants leading to a gap in cancer prevention policy, which weakens our battle to prevent disease. In sharp contrast, the EU has developed its own ‘Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability’ and ‘Beating Cancer plan, both of which contain legislative commitments to address EDCs and carcinogens.

Responding to this joint letter, Thalie Martini Chief Executive of Breast Cancer UK said:

“Breast Cancer UK is proud to join leading charities and expert researchers in calling on the Department of Health to give the new National Institute for Health Protection responsibilities for monitoring, researching and proposing restrictions on harmful chemicals.

For years, we have been very concerned that public exposure to harmful chemicals, in particular hormone disrupting chemicals, is increasing our vulnerability to breast cancer.

The truth is, we are exposed to a cocktail of chemicals throughout our daily lives. From bisphenols in plastics, phthalates in personal care products, flame retardants in furniture to PFAS in food packaging and toxic pesticides, the scientific evidence has mounted showing the chemical burden we are all vulnerable to. Despite this, public health and cancer strategies have failed to acknowledge this.

This omission is unacceptable and weakens our battle to prevent disease. It’s time for public health plans and cancer strategies to acknowledge the evidence and address the impact of harmful chemicals on the nation’s health. As the UK leaves the EU transition period and prepares to develop its own chemicals regime, we urge the Department of Health and DEFRA to work together to keep harmful chemicals out of our daily lives to protect public health and the environment.”

It’s time for the UK Government to develop its own action plan to support a non-toxic environment. Maintaining and enhancing public health and environmental protections from harmful chemicals linked to breast cancer must be treated as a post-Brexit priority!

Further Reading

To find out more about our current latest campaign work please follow this link here

For more information on the links between EDCs and breast cancer see our background reading section here

Read Breast Cancer UK’s response to the Departments of Health’s Prevention Green Paper.

Read Department for Heath & Social Care’ Policy Paper: The Future of Public health: The National Institute for Health Protection and other public health functions.

Read Environmental Audit Committee’s Report on Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life.


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