Cancer Environmental - Living Downstream

The book is: "Living Downstream" - an ecologist looks at cancer and the environment. The author: Sandra Steingraber. Published May 1997 by Addison-Wesley

The book is an outstanding treasure. It is thought provoking. It created feelings of anger in me.

page 32, In 1995, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States - thirty-four hundred a day - were told they had cancer. Each of these diagnoses is a border crossing, the beginning of an unplanned and unchosen journey. There is a story behind each one.

page 40, all types combined, the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3 percent between 1950 and 1991. .... If lung cancer is excluded, overall incidence still rose by 35 percent. ...

while today, about 40 percent of us (38.3 percent of women and 48.2 percent of men) will contract the disease sometime within our lifespans.

page 47 The rise in cancer incidence over calendar time is one line of evidence that implicates environmental factors. ....

After lung cancer in women, the three cancers ascending most swiftly in the United States are melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.......

Toxic Chemicals

Page 99 - 100, The rapid birthrate of new synthetic products that began in 1945 far surpassed the ability of government to regulate their use and disposal. Between 45,000 and 100,000 chemicals are now in common commercial use; 75,000 is the most frequently cited estimate. Of these, only about 1.5 to 3 percent (1,200 to 1,500) have been tested for carcinogenicity. The vast majority of commercially used chemicals were brought to market before 1979, when the federal Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA) mandated the review of new chemicals. Thus, many carcinogenic environmental contaminants likely remain unidentified, unmonitored, and unregulated. Too often, this lack of basic information is paraphrased as "there is a lack of evidence of harm," which in turn is translated as "the chemical is harmless."

page 101, The linchpin of EPCRA (Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act) is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). As the SEER Program registry is to cancer incidence, TRI is to carcinogens and other toxins. It requires that certain manufacturers report to the government the total amount of each of some 650 toxic chemicals released each year into air, water, and land. the government then makes these data public information. As a pollution disclosure program, TRI has many deficiencies. Its main shortcoming that it relies completely on self-reporting and lacks adequate procedures for checking data quality. In addition, it does not address the presence of carcinogens in consumer products; small companies are exempt from reporting; the compliance rate among industries that are required to file is only about 66 percent; and 654 is a small fraction of the total chemicals they use.

page 101 - 102, ...Some analysts believe the substantial decline in emissions from 1987 to the present, for example, partly consists of phantom reductions - such as changes in accounting methods or the contracting of highly polluting processes to other facilities. Researchers tracking the flow of toxic chemicals through the economy point out that declines in toxic waste releases have not always been accompanied by parallel declines in toxic waste production: the generation of toxic waste by TRI-reporting facilities remains high. Where, then, is the waste going? Without thorough materials accounting, which is not currently required, no one is exactly sure.

page 125, Routine screening of chemicals for carcinogenicity in laboratory animals began in earnest in the early 1970s. As of 1993, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had assayed about a thousand chemicals - a small fraction of the total number used in commerce - and had identified 110 definite or very probable human carcinogens.

page 131, Without these tests (assays), we can only guess at the number of chemical carcinogens in our midst. As of 1995, the National Toxicology Program had completed animal assays on 400-odd chemicals. Based on these results, researchers have estimated that of the 75,000 chemicals now in commercial use, somewhat fewer than 5 to 10 percent of these might reasonably be considered carcinogenic in humans. Five to 10 percent means 3,750 to 7,500 different chemicals. The number of substances we have identified and regulate as carcinogens, is at present, less than 200.

page 133, To date, cancers identified in the beluga (whale, of the St. Lawrence) include bladder, stomach, intestinal, salivary gland, breast, and ovarian. The prevalence of intestinal cancer is especially high. Of seventy-three stranded whales autopsied since 1983, fifteen had cancerous tumors somewhere in their bodies, and one-third of these were intestinal tumors. No cases of cancer have been reported in belugas inhabiting the less contaminated Arctic Ocean.

page 138, In 1990, at the International Forum for the Future of the Beluga, the conservationist Leone Pippart of the Canadian Ecology Advocates asked the following questions: "Tell me, does the St. Lawrence beluga drink too much alcohol and does the st. Lawrence beluga smoke too much and does the St. Lawrence beluga have a bad diet. . . is that why the beluga whales are ill? Do you think you are somehow immune and that it is only the beluga whale that is being affected?"

page 165, Detectable pesticide residues are found in about 35 percent of food consumed in the United State, but the proportion of this food that contains illegal residues is a contested figure.

As an example, consider produce. The FDA reports that 3.1 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed by the public contains pesticide residues above the legal tolerance level. One research institution, the Environmental Working Group, places this estimate higher. In their review of FDA monitoring data, EWG staff discovered that many more violation were detected by FDA chemists than were reported by FDA enforcement personnel. The actual violation rate, according to their reanalysis, is 5.6 percent - nearly double the FDA's official claim - and involves sixty-six different pesticides, including many banned or restricted for use. Green peas showed a violation rate of nearly 25 percent, pears 15.7 percent, apple juice 12.5 percent, blackberries 12.4 percent and green onions 11.7 percent.

and finally and sadly,

page 268 - 269 ...In full possession of our ecological roots, we can begin to survey our present situation. This requires a human rights approach. Such an approach recognizes that the current system of regulating the use, release, and disposal of known and suspected carcinogens - rather than preventing their generation in the first place - is intolerable.

...Cancer may be a lottery, but we do not each of us hold equal chances of "winning." When carcinogens are deliberately or accidentally introduced into the environment, some number of vulnerable persons are consigned to death.

...Suppose we assume for a moment that the most conservative estimate concerning the proportion of cancer deaths due to environmental causes is absolutely accurate. This estimate, put forth by those who dismiss environmental carcinogens as negligible, is 2 percent. ... Two percent means that 10,940 people in the United States die each year from environmentally caused cancers. This is more that the number of women who die each year from hereditary breast cancer - an issue that has launched multi-million-dollar research initiatives. This is more than the number of children and teenagers killed each year by firearms - an issue that is considered a matter of national shame. It is more than three times the number of nonsmokers estimated to die each year of lung cancer caused by exposure to secondhand smoke - a problem so serious it warranted sweeping changes in laws governing air quality in public spaces. It is the annual equivalent of wiping out a small city. It is thirty funerals every day.

None of these 10,940 Americans will die quick, painless deaths. They will be amputated, irradiated, and dosed with chemotherapy. They will expire privately in hospitals and hospices and be buried quietly. Photographs of their bodies will not appear in newspapers. We will not know who most of them are. Their anonymity, however, does not moderate this violence. These deaths are a form of homicide.