EARTHFUTURE.COM by Guy Dauncey
If you follow a similar map for breast cancer, most of the hotspots follow the most highly industrialized areas, from Maine to Washington, DC, around the Great Lakes and down the lower Mississippi. These same areas have the hotspots for bladder and colon cancer. The San Francisco Bay area is another hotspot, for a variety of toxic reasons. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 2/3 of the US population lives in areas where toxic chemicals such as benzene, mercury and formaldehyde pose an elevated cancer risk. Since World War II, more than 80,000 chemicals have been created and released into the environment, mostly unregulated.
In Sydney, Nova Scotia, breast cancer among women is 57 percent higher than for the rest of Nova Scotia. Cervical cancer is 134 percent higher, stomach cancer 78 percent higher, brain cancer 72 percent higher, lung cancer 40 percent higher. Among men, stomach cancer is 78 percent higher; colon and rectal cancer 77 percent higher, brain cancer 68 percent higher. The authorities say that people in Sydney smoke and drink too much. The reality is that Sydney sits on Canada’s worst industrially-contaminated site, from the old coal and steel works, which leach into the local estuary known as the tar ponds, then into the harbour.
And it’s not just chemicals. We know that radiation causes cancer, from nuclear power plants and from the x-ray dosages that we accumulate over our lifetime. We know that urban air pollution causes cancer. It is becoming clear that electromagnetic radiation, while it may not cause cancer, does accelerate the growth of a cancer. Evidence is now coming in about the cancer risk associated with cellphone towers, and cellphones. Research in 2001 by a German team at the University of Essen found that people who use cellphones regularly are three times more likely to develop uveal melanoma, cancer of the eye. In Britain, the government has issued a warning that cellphones should never be used by children because of microwave radiation.
You might be saying, “Enough, already!” I can assure you, there’s a whole lot more where this comes from. For a book that combines wisdom, insight, poetry and the full scientific picture, I cannot recommend Sandra Steingraber’s Living Downstream strongly enough. Her second book, Having Faith, about her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter Faith, is equally profound and moving. There is an epidemic happening, and we owe it to ourselves, and to friends and relatives who have cancer, to understand it properly, and to start to act.
So what is happening on the human level, that we are not hearing about these environmental influences, and that nothing is happening to ban the relevant chemicals?
One of the problems is that Canada’s regulatory agencies take a very passive approach. Canada’s former environmental auditor general, Brian Emmett, produced a report which says that when it comes to the regulation of pesticides and other toxic substances, compared to the other OECD countries, Canada’s regulatory system is on a par with Bulgaria.
In addition, the main organizations which are committed to eradicating cancer take a very passive line when it comes to prevention (and by prevention I do not mean screening or early detection). Canada’s National Cancer Institute, for instance, gives very few grants for studies of the environmental or occupational factors involved in cancer.
The only conclusion I can come to is that there is industry collusion. For many years, the chief sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which occurs every October, was AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of tamoxifen, the controversial carcinogenic drug that is used to reduce the risk of women contracting breast cancer. The main focus of the month has usually been on lifestyle changes and early detection with scarcely a word on the toxic causes of cancer. When AstraZeneca started sponsoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it was a subsidiary of ICI, one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturers. As a result of the “mind confusion” that underlies most of cancer’s major fundraising efforts, huge numbers of people think that running for the cure and wearing a pink ribbon will solve the problem. The pink ribbons are pink fig leaves, which stop us seeing what’s really causing cancer.
And then there’s General Electric, a major industrial polluter which also manufactures mammography machines. If you were on its board of directors, what interest would you have in eliminating the causes of cancer?
If we are going to stop this epidemic, it seems we are going to have to sidestep the cancer establishment. We have to phase out all known carcinogens. We have to embrace the precautionary principle, as the German and Swedish governments are doing, and ban all new suspected carcinogens. We have to set up city-wide task forces to seek ways to eliminate known carcinogens, as Toronto has done. We have to clean up contaminated sites. We have to impose heavy fines on the release of toxic chemicals into the air and water. We have to ban chemicals such as formaldehyde used in plywood, cabinets and carpets, perchloroethylene in dry cleaning and PVC plastics. We have to require that plastics manufacturers list their ingredients clearly, so that we can avoid chemicals which off-gas. We should never put plastic dishes, baby bottles or clingfilm into a microwave, since it causes carcinogenic chemicals to migrate into the food. And we have to do as Ontario is now doing in its Breast Awareness Month, which is to examine the toxic roots of cancer, and consider what prevention really means.
It’s a long list, but it’s manageable. But most of all, we have to wake up, and start organizing. Cancer is preventable, but for all the massive fundraising efforts that have taken place, we have hardly started. Until we do, our friends, relatives, children and grandchildren will continue to get more and more cancer; and they will die in larger and larger numbers.
Guy Dauncey is an author, speaker and sustainable communities consultant who lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com