February 25, 2020

DEP Snapshot: It’s 1976,
Fight Against Cancer Prompts Search for Toxins in Air, Water and More

(20/S007) – Whether it’s a proposal for strict new drinking water standards on contaminants linked to cancer or a court battle against a manufacturer alleged to have caused widespread pollution involving cancer-causing solvents, the DEP has devoted considerable efforts to address potential carcinogens in our air, water and land.

Toxins in Air, Water and more

And though the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Statistics Center indicates an estimated 53,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2020 in New Jersey, the DEP continues working toward a cleaner, healthier state.

Forty-four years ago, cancer-causing toxins already were on the department’s radar.

And now, a look at 1976 …

On May 26, 1976 – five years after President Nixon’s 1971 State of the Union address declaring “War on Cancer” – then-Gov. Brendan Byrne signed Executive Order 40, creating the Cabinet Committee on Cancer Control.

In support of the committee, DEP created the Program on Environmental Cancer and Toxic Substances (PECTS) to identify cancer-causing toxic chemicals and other agents in the state's air, water, sediment and fish. The program initiated a number of projects to locate communities exposed to high levels of potential carcinogens, investigate the state’s elevated cancer incidence – among the highest in the nation at the time, according to the National Cancer Institute – and propose recommendations for limiting the exposure of residents to hazardous emissions.

In addition, the program published a list of 80 known or suspected carcinogens compiled from the scientific literature and designed a survey to provide insight into industrial practices that might be releasing toxins.

The program later became the Office of Cancer and Toxic Substances Research, and today, it is the DEP’s Division of Science and Research.