Chemicals fingered as rates reach epidemic proportions, by Mitchell Anderson
is now projected to
afflict one in every 2.2 men and one in every 2.6 women in their lifetime. In
the 1930s, those numbers were less that one in 10. What's happening? Why are
we now seeing what many are calling a "cancer epidemic"?
Some would suggest we are simply an aging population and cancer is a disease
of the old. Not true. Recent statistics show that the net incidence rate of
cancer has increased 25% for males and 20% for females from 1974 to 2005 -
after correcting for the effects of aging.
Children are increasingly the victims. Researchers in
have shown that
certain childhood cancers such as leukemia and brain cancer have increased by
more than a third since the 1950s.
hundreds of millions of dollars are raised and spent for cancer research and
treatment. The elephant in the room, however, is the contribution of
environmental toxins and whether many of the cancers striking Canadians can be
avoided rather than simply managed.
The World Health Organization estimates that fully 25% of cancers worldwide
are caused by occupational and environmental factors other than smoking. You
don't have to look far for some potential chemical culprits.
are more than 85,000 chemicals that are currently licensed for use in
. Less than half have
ever been tested for human health risk and even fewer for potential
The U.S. Centers For Disease Control recently
turned their attention toward pollution detection - not in the environment,
but within the human body. Their study in 2002 found the presence of 81
different toxic chemicals, including PCBs, benzene and other carcinogens in
their sampling of 2,500 people tested.
It is somewhat of a no-brainer that reducing exposure to known carcinogens
will reduce the risk of developing cancer. Surprisingly, this simple logic
seems to have been lost on our federal government. Many chemicals that are
scientifically demonstrated carcinogens or otherwise toxic are freely used
here without any legal obligation to identify them on the label. Some of these
same chemicals are entirely banned elsewhere. A trip to your local supermarket
reveals a small sample of these hidden poisons:
Mothballs contain either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene,
both of which are carcinogenic. A recent
study linked mothball
use to an increased incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Polycarbonate
plastics used in food-grade plastic containers such as water bottles can leach
Bisphenol A, an estrogen-mimicking chemical linked
to a variety of disorders, including hormone-related birth defects, learning
disabilities, prostate cancer and neuro-degenerative
diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.
Several leading perfumes, nail polishes and other cosmetic products sold in
endocrine-disrupting phthalates DBP and DEHP - both banned for use in cosmetic
products in European Union countries.
ethers or PBDEs are common chemical fire
retardants found in everything from foam mattresses to computer parts. They
have similar properties to the now outlawed PCBs and are known neurotoxins and
hormone disrupters. The most dangerous forms are now banned in the EU, though
they remain legal here in
Many leading brands of household laundry detergent contain trisodium
nitrilotriacetate, another suspected carcinogen as
well as an environmental pollutant.
Chemicals that endanger human life also go down the drain and impact the
environment. A gruesome example involved a dead orca that washed up south of
in 2000 that was so
contaminated with persistent chemicals that
the carcass to the Swan Hills toxic waste facility for incineration.
Like orcas, we are perched at the top of the food chain and are becoming the
unwitting receptacles of many of the chemicals designed to make our lives more
Ballooning cancer rates are simply not worth whiter clothes or fewer moths.
Cancer must be fought on many fronts. Research and treatment are undeniably
important but so is environmental cancer prevention. It is therefore shocking
that our government is not moving faster to ban known and suspected
carcinogens, and requiring
mandatory "right to know" labeling so that Canadians can better
protect themselves and their families.
Anything less is quite simply putting the interests of the chemical industry
ahead of human life.
Mitchell Anderson is a board member
of the Labour Environmental Alliance Society, a
Vancouver-based charity that educates the public on cancer prevention.
products without controversial ingredients
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