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New EPA Guidelines Would Better Gauge Danger of Chemicals Cancer Risk Greater for Kids, Agency Says

By Rob Stein Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 4, 2003; Page A02

Children are much more likely than adults to get cancer from exposure to certain chemicals, according to a new risk assessment strategy proposed yesterday by the federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency released a final draft of new guidelines for evaluating the dangers posed by pesticides and other cancer-causing chemicals that officials said would be more accurate than current methods. The guidelines would consider a variety of new factors when deciding safe levels of exposure, such as how a substance causes cancer.

If implemented, they would be used to evaluate any new chemicals that come into use and to reevaluate others that are already in use. As part of the new guidelines, the EPA for the first time proposed that regulators assume that children are more vulnerable to the cancer-causing effects of chemicals that can cause genetic damage. "Now we can start to say that there are groups of people who are more susceptible," said William H. Farland, acting deputy assistant administrator for science in the EPA's Office of Research and Development, at a briefing for reporters.

According to the proposal, children age 2 and younger would be considered to have 10 times the risk of adults, while children age 2 through 15 would be considered three times as vulnerable. "We think this guidance on assessing children's cancer risk is going to evolve for a number of classes of compounds," Farland said. The proposal would update guidelines issued in 1986 and comes after the agency spent years reviewing all the scientific literature on cancer-causing substances. It is designed to incorporate greater scientific understanding that has emerged since 1986 of how chemicals can cause cancer, at what doses and how people of various ages may be affected differently.

The agency concluded, based on that review, that children are much more sensitive than adults and tend to be exposed to much greater levels of substances for various reasons, including that they tend to be more likely than adults to put things in their mouths. Officials said they could not say whether the new guidelines would result in more or less restrictive regulations overall, but stressed that public health remains the highest priority. "Clearly the assessments that are being done using these new guidelines will be as public-health protective as those that we've done in the past," Farland said. "But they will include additional data and more analysis than was done previously."

Environmental groups generally praised the proposal. "This really shows this front-end loading of cancer risk in the first two years of life," said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group. But Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the guidelines would not go far enough. "The biggest problem with the guidelines is that they would provide too many exceptions to the rule by giving polluters too many opportunities to paralyze the agency with pseudo-scientific arguments," she said.

The American Chemical Council, an industry group, praised the proposal. "The children's guidelines reflect the difficulties in developing a science-based policy for addressing children's cancer risks, but are a good start toward addressing the risks of childhood exposures to potential cancer-causing substances," the council said in a statement. Before taking effect, the guidelines will be subject to 60 days of public comment, and then an independent scientific advisory board will review the section about children, officials said. � 2003 The Washington Post Company

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