Should government be a watchdog for citizen safety, or a lap dog for industry

From Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Times:

“…The industry’s strategy is to lobby Congress to cut off money for the Report on Carcinogens, a 500-page consensus document published every two years by the National Institutes of Health, containing the best information about what agents cause cancer. If that sounds like shooting the messenger, well, it is.

“The way the free market is supposed to work is that you have information,” said Lynn Goldman, dean of the school of public health at George Washington University. “They’re trying to squelch that information.”

The larger issue is whether the federal government should be a watchdog for public health, or a lap dog for industry. When Mitt Romney denounces President Obama for excessive regulation, these are the kinds of issues at stake.

“Formaldehyde is known to be a human carcinogen,” declared the most recent Report on Carcinogens, published in 2011. Previous editions had listed it only as a suspected carcinogen, but the newer report, citing many studies of human and animal exposure to formaldehyde, made the case that it was time to stop equivocating.

The chemical industry was outraged, because it sells lots of formaldehyde that ends up in people’s homes, often without their knowledge.

“Nearly all homes had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation,” according to a 2009 survey by the California Energy Commission.

The Report on Carcinogens also offended the chemical industry by listing styrene for the first time as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen.” Styrene, which goes into everything from boats to shower stalls, is mostly a risk to those who work in factories where it is used, so it’s less of an issue for the general public….”

Read more in The New York Times.

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