WASHINGTON - An expert panel that advises the president on cancer says Americans are facing "grievous harm" from chemicals in the air, food and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored.

The President's Cancer Panel called for a new national strategy that focuses on such threats in the environment and workplace. It called those dangers "underestimated."

"With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action," the panel wrote in a report released yesterday.

Currently, federal chemical laws are weak, funding is inadequate and regulatory responsibilities are split among too many agencies, the panel found.

Children are particularly vulnerable because of their smaller bodies and fast physical development, the panel found. The report noted rising rates of cancer in children, and it referred to recent studies that have found industrial chemicals in umbilical-cord blood, which supplies nutrients to developing fetuses.

"To a disturbing extent, babies are born 'pre-polluted,' " the panel wrote, adding that health officials lack critical knowledge about the chemicals' impact on fetuses and children.

In addition, the government's standards for safe chemical exposure in the workplace are outdated, it said.

In 2009, about 1.5 million American men, women and children had cancer diagnosed, and 562,000 people died from the disease.

The panel found that the country needs to overhaul existing chemical laws, a conclusion that has been supported by public health groups, environmental advocates, the chemical industry and the Obama administration.

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