By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

A common flame retardant, the chronic infection Helicobacter pylori, and six haloacetic acids, water disinfection byproducts, “are listed as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” according to the 15th Report on Carcinogens. This expands the list to 256 agents that could cause cancer in humans.

Mandated by congressional action in 1978, the Report on Carcinogens is a repository of hazardous substances that pose danger to human health. The report authors are careful not to calculate specific risks to individuals who have been exposed to the harmful agents “because many factors affect whether a person will or will not develop cancer.” Still, researchers remain on the lookout for modifiable risk factors that can cause cancer.

“As the identification of carcinogens is a key step in cancer prevention, publication of the report represents an important government activity toward improving public health,” Rick Woychik, PhD, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said in a statement.

The bacterium H. pylori colonizes in the human stomach. Even though most show no symptoms, H. pylori can cause ulcers, gastritis, and even stomach cancer. Antimony trioxide is a flame retardant found in various consumer products. Those who produce products that contain this material are at highest exposure risk; others are at lower risk by inhaling contaminated air or dust in old furniture or carpet that contains the retardant.

Perhaps most troubling are the six haloacetic acids. These are byproducts that are formed during a water disinfection process when organic matter in the water reacts to chlorine-based disinfection agents. The report authors estimate as many as 250 millions Americans who use community water systems could be exposed to these byproducts, although federal regulations require regular monitoring and reporting.

For more on this and related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of Infectious Disease Alert.