Widespread cancer is a public health tragedy that affects families in Connecticut and across the country. Although incidents of some forms of cancer, like lung cancer, are on the decrease, about 41 percent of all Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. In Connecticut, cancer is the second leading cause of death.

The President's Cancer Panel recently released its annual report which, for the first time, included a focus on environmentally induced cancers -- those that result from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals and pollution. It concluded that "the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated" and recommends significant changes to better protect people from cancer-causing chemicals.

The panel offered some common-sense solutions for reducing the cancer risk in the future. Its recommendations include raising consumer awareness of the risks posed by chemicals in food, air, water and other products; bolstering research of the health effects related to exposure; and tightening regulation of chemicals that may cause cancer or other diseases.

Connecticut has proven a leader in the challenge to reform chemical policies. Since 2008, the General Assembly has passed laws that reduce lead content in children's products and that phase out the use of the chemical bisphenol A -- a chemical that causes a host of health and reproductive issues, especially when children are exposed -- from baby bottles, infant formula cans and reusable food containers.

We've also taken aim at cadmium levels in children's jewelry and have passed laws to phase out the use of harsh chemical cleaning products in our schools and to phase in the use of safer, certified "green" products instead. While we have been very successful in our efforts, there is much that still needs to be done.

Leadership at the federal level is essential, and we have a unique opportunity to press for protective federal chemical policies. Several lawmakers in Washington have introduced legislation that would update our nation's chemical safety policies -- specifically the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which currently allows toxic chemicals to be used in everyday consumer products without first being tested for safety. In its 34-year history, the TSCA has resulted in only 200 out of approximately 80,000 chemicals in commerce being assessed for safety and only five chemicals being restricted for use.

The new proposals would plug many loopholes in our current policies that allow cancer-causing chemicals to be used in consumer products and allow untested chemicals to enter the mainstream in the first place. If passed, they would result in bold new advances in our war against cancer and a 21st century chemical safety policy that reflects modern science and research.

In its final form, the legislation should directly address the most hazardous chemicals, known as PBTs -- persistent, bio-accumulative toxins -- and other high-hazard substances. These chemicals -- including lead, mercury and formaldehyde -- should be phased out of consumer products except for in critical uses. The final legislation should also fully embrace a framework that replaces cancer-causing chemicals with safer alternatives.

In 2009, approximately 1.5 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in the United States. Approximately 21 percent of us will die from cancer. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our quality of life and reduce the burdens places on families struggling with this chronic disease.

I urge all Connecticut residents to join in the effort to mobilize support for chemical policy reforms that will lead to fewer people in our communities doing battle with cancer and fewer health-care dollars being spent on preventable diseases.