Thursday, November 18, 2010

Silent Spring Institute Updates Cape Codders

There are elevated rates of breast cancer on Cape Cod, as I mentioned yesterday. After writing my blog, I attended a Barnstable meeting that featured Laurel Schaider of the “small but mighty” research organization Silent Spring Institute. Silent Spring looks for possible links between breast cancer and the environment, and recommends the Precautionary Principle. The SSI approach is prevention ...

During the first part of her speech, Dr. Schaider explained how pleased SSI was when the President’s Cancer Panel made its recommendations earlier this year as they are in line with what previous SSI research has revealed. “It was exciting for us to see the topic getting national attention,” she said.

The recommendations of the President’s Cancer Panel are:
• Filter tap water
• Don’t microwave in plastic
• Eat organic
• Minimize children’s exposure to toxics
• Avoid radiation
• Support research and the production of safe alternatives.

Her first slide offered the following equation: biological mechanisms (animal models) + human exposure = basis for action.

Dr. Schaider shared the results of a rat study, which was striking in its clarity. The control image of a normal rat's mammary gland showed a structure that resembled the branches of a healthy tree. The second image of the mammary gland of a rat that had been exposed to dioxin prior to birth, had fewer branches and stunted growth.

During the second half of the meeting, Dr. Schaider reviewed SSI results, revealed last spring, from the collection from public wells on the Upper Cape. Those of you who follow this blog know that SSI testing showed higher concentrations of an antibiotic and a flame retardant. She said the next studies will feature water from private wells. 130 volunteers have already registered. This new study will examine data from all over the Cape, including Wellfleet. (Current funding only allows Silent Spring to study a total of 20 wells, which is not much in the grand scheme of things. Please contribute here so at least 50 can be included in the study.)

Wastewater treatment plants and septic systems do not prevent contaminants from excretion to enter our water supply (pharmaceuticals, for instance).

One of the conclusions I drew after this meeting was that development and higher- density living in Upper Cape towns like Hyannis certainly has an influence on the percentage of contaminants in water. Here, in Wellfleet, we are fortunate that 62% of the land mass lies within the National Seashore.

I was glad to hear Dr. Schaider put into words what the American Chemistry Council would prefer we not know: chemical testing is emerging as a breast cancer issue. Her conclusions were spot on: 1.) filter your water with a solid carbon block filter, 2.) prevent chemicals from getting into drinking water. We must insist on better maintenance of our septic systems. We must also support local efforts to protect wellhead districts.

This is the third Silent Spring update meeting I have attended. Read Dr. Schaider's November 2009 conclusions here. Unfortunately, she speaks very, very fast, which is hard on those of us who are scientifically-challenged. I probably missed a lot, so I suggest you check out the article in the Cape Cod Times this morning for further details ...