The Health Department of New York State this month put out a first-in-the-nation cancer map showing the locations of incidences of cancer and likely sources of pollution such as hazardous waste and Superfund sites. For many places in New York, with high cancer rates and numerous sources of pollution, the map—accessible on the Internet—is a breakthrough.
Only reluctantly did the Health Department put together the map based on cancer cases between 2003 and 2007 listed in the state’s Cancer Registry and data on potentially polluting sites provided by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
As the New York Times reported, the department along with the American Cancer Society
“opposed” the mapping because of “concerns that its unfiltered data could be misinterpreted.” But Governor David Paterson “sided against his own administration in signing the legislation” which mandated the mapping, noted the Times.
The Assembly sponsor of the legislation, Richard Brodsky of Westchester County, commented that the map is a “first step in getting to answers about whether these clusters are statistical accidents or related to an environmental cause.”
The unveiling of the map came a week after the President’s Cancer Panel issued a 240-page report pointing to chemicals and radiation as key causes of cancer. It is titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now” and is also available online.
It states that “cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 61 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from the cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing…The burgeoning number and complexity of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compel us to act to protect public health.”
The panel concludes that “the grievous harm” from carcinogens “has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program…The burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated…The American people…are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”
It urges President Obama “most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”
But will government move? For example, although the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976 requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to assess chemicals in commercial use in the U.S.—now totaling 80,000, the report notes—EPA has only gotten around to examining 200.
I wrote a book on all this titled The Poison Conspiracy, out in 1983, showing how those who are supposed to protect us from poisons—including the EPA—largely do not because of coziness with those who do the polluting.
And in a chapter on “Admitted Consequences,” I cited reports of a number of federal panels on the cancer epidemic and its pollution link including a 1980 report of the Presidential Toxic Substances Strategy Committee that found “environmental factors…are significant in the great majority of cancer cases seen, perhaps 80-90 percent.”
The American Cancer Society criticized the new President’s Cancer Panel report insisting pollution isn’t a major cause of cancer. This caused Dr. Samuel Epstein, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and author of The Politics of Cancer, to criticize the society noting the large amount of money it receives from DuPont, BP and other polluters.
The poisoning—and consequent cancer—isn’t necessary. The President’s Cancer Panel emphasizes how “the requite knowledge and technologies exist” to provide safe “alternatives” to cancer-causing agents. But this doesn’t suit those doing the polluting—who have such a hold on government.