What Do You Race For?

As athletes we are motivated to compete. It's in our DNA. We compete against ourselves, for a PR, to beat our rivals, to be on the podium. Increasingly though, we are competing on behalf of something bigger than ourselves. And that's a good thing.

Go to just about any race these days and you'll see athletes sporting charity logos on their race singlets or tri suits with names like Team in Training and DetermiNation. TNT is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's training program and an official charity of a number of events including the Boston Marathon and the Nation's Triathlon in Washington DC.

Six hundred TNT triathletes raised $2.4 million for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at the Nation's Tri this year, according to the race website. That's huge.

DetermiNation is the training program of the American Cancer Society (ACS) and operates much like TNT. DetermiNation athletes compete at the New York City Triathlon, Rock n Roll Marathons, and many other races across the country.

These are just two of a long and growing list of charities that athletes participate in. From Autism to Alzheimer's, prostate to pancreatic cancer, there's a reason beyond yourself to compete. And they all need funding to do work that's vital.

It's long been known that certain chemicals... trigger cancer and disease by damaging DNA...

Recently, many of these charities have started to address the connections between disease and environmental factors, specifically chemicals in our food, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the products we buy.

It's long been known that certain chemicals and contaminants trigger cancer and disease by damaging DNA, disrupting hormones, inflaming tissues, or turning genes on or off. According to the ACS's publication Cancer Facts and Figures 2010, while much is known about the relationship between environmental exposure and cancer, "some important research questions remain."

Earlier this year, the President's Cancer Panel put a finer point on the issue, claiming that environmentally induced cancers are "grossly underestimated." The Panel recommended more research and better education to reduce the everyday exposure to carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, bisphenol A, PCBs, and various pesticides.

We come into contact with these and other harmful chemicals on a daily basis and they all can damage DNA, disrupt hormones, inflame tissues, or turn genes on or off.

Little Government Intervention

Surprisingly, under current law the US government doesn't require companies to test the chemicals in their products for safety before they're sold.

What's more, the government has virtually no information about the health risks posed by most of the 80,000 chemicals on the U.S. market today. That's because when the law, called the Toxic Substances Control Act, was passed in 1976 it exempted from regulation about 62,000 chemicals that were in commercial use.

Adding insult to injury, chemicals developed since the law's passage—about 22,000 give or take—did not have to be tested for safety either. The burden of proof is on the US Environmental Protection Agency to prove a chemical is unsafe rather than the companies who make chemicals having to prove they are safe.

In fact, the current law discourages companies from researching the impact of the chemicals in their products because they are required by law to share with the government information they have about the harmful effects of the chemical. What company in its right mind would do research that suggests its products are dangerous?

So this research is left to independent, typically non-profit organizations. For instance, benzene has been shown to be a factor causing leukemia. And recent studies have indicated a relationship between chemicals found in carpeting to be linked to thyroid disease. Another study suggests there may be a connection between ADHD and pesticides, many of which are neurotoxins. The list goes on.

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