Thursday, May 13, 2010

Should We Heed the Presidential Cancer Panel?

Bloggers, time to make a difference. Spread the word about the recommendations made by the Presidential Cancer Panel – appointed by Pres. Bush, not Pres. Obama – because the national media isn’t doing so. Perhaps you've already heard the stunning report, warning of lifestyle choices and environmental factors, which can lead to cancer? There was an article in the New York Times on Friday, May 7th, stating that the American Cancer Society had pooh-poohed these recommendations. Come again? The organization “dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering” does not want us to take this warning seriously? How can that be? Methinks I smell crisp green lettuce in the form of contribution dollars. Turns out ‘tis so, according to World Wire, which lists major funding sources, including Dupont, cosmetic companies, and big Pharma. Take a look and draw your own conclusions.

Yesterday I returned to town hall to reread the Annual Report from 1976. It lists 11 pesticides, used or proposed for use, in Wellfleet, that year. In the seventies, apparently the town's folk were much more concerned about the possible effects of synthetic chemicals than they are today. In fact, the writer notes, “The need for extreme caution in using pesticides is supported by the following fact: cancer is now the second leading cause of death in the US. With a mortality rate that has tripled since 1900, the World Health Organization has estimated that as many as 85% of all human cancers are caused by man-made substances; synthetic chemicals which have been in use for decades are now being identified as the causes of cancer and birth defects.”

WHO is located in Switzerland. I found the following note on their Web site: “Changes in lifestyle and improved prevention and screening policies could prevent up to 40% of all cancer cases, the WHO Regional Office for Europe said before World Cancer Day on 4 February 2010. People can significantly reduce their cancer risk by avoiding risk factors (such as tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, excessive sun exposure and obesity) and adopting healthier lifestyles …”

Cape Cod has a 20% higher rate of breast cancer than the rest of Massachusetts, one of the highest rates in the nation, on a par with Marin Country, California.

All these ramblings bring me to Silent Spring Institute, whose researchers presented their latest findings yesterday at Barnstable Town Hall. Silent Spring looked for traces of pharmaceuticals, hormones, herbicides, and consumer-product chemicals like flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds (ie. from nonstick and stain-resistant surfaces). The goal was to understand the susceptibility of Cape Cod drinking water supplies to contamination by waste water, in particular from septic systems and “to evaluate the influence of factors such as the extent of residential development in well recharge areas.”

Dr. Laurel Schaider presented the findings. None of the public wells tested were in Wellfleet. Brewster was the closest town in the study, and most wells were at the other end of the Cape. The two chemicals detected the most frequently were an antibiotic used in urology (12 out of 22 samples) and a PFOS (9 out of 22 samples). The well district that showed the most contamination was in gradient of the airport at the Hyannis rotary. (Anyone interested in more detail can go here for a fact sheet on the study or read the report in the Cape Cod Times.) Overall, the results were heartening.

So, why oh why did I feel so disheartened? There had been minimal mention of breast cancer during the talk. One of the only times Dr. Schaider used these words was during a report on past studies, including a recent one by the Boston University School of Public Health, which revealed higher rates of breast cancer in Hyannis and an increased risk attributed to drinking water.

During the Q& A, David Larkowsky, in charge of the water district in Dennis, spoke briefly on what he saw as a “wake-up call,” stating “It’s prudent to reduce exposures. We hope the study helps the community to advocate for better protection for wells.”

Have you lost anyone dear to cancer? Do you know someone who has cancer now? Is cancer something you worry about? Do you check labels and use personal responsibility regarding the cleaning products you bring into your home? Are you careful what you put down your sink? Does your town have hazardous waste and unused pharmaceuticals collection?? And, of course, the most question, are you going to act on the Presidential Cancer Panel's recommendations?