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Mainely Tipping Points 31: I Feel It In My Gut

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Mainely Tipping Points 31

I FEEL IT IN MY GUT

 Some of you might remember that I got into researching and writing about food issues because suddenly I developed food allergies that caused me to pass out with little or no warning.  I suffered dozens of unpleasant food-related allergic episodes; experienced several rescues from our local emergency crew; underwent one trip to the hospital; endured a growing list of problem foods; and still negotiate with friends and family who are scared to feed me.

So, rejoice with me when I tell you that I’ve had a breakthrough—one that could impact also your health.  I discovered that the root cause of my food allergy problems was a malfunctioning gut—something that likely affects many Americans.  It isn’t that I am allergic to specific foods, but that foods I was eating were not being contained properly within my digestive system.  Because my gut had been perforated by out-of-control opportunistic microbes that live in my gut, undigested food particles were leaking through the gut walls and were being attacked as foreign invaders by my body—which explained the growing list of “problem” foods.

My breakthrough began with an article by British physician Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride: “Food Allergies:  A Holistic Approach,” in the journal WISE TRADITIONS, summer 2010, 26-34, which is available at www.westonaprice.org.  In addition, Campbell-Mcbride has published the very comprehensive GUT AND PSYCHOLOGY SYNDROME, which she revised and expanded in November 2010.  And, there is an excellent web site with information on the well-credentialed Campbell-McBride; the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or GAPS, diet; and resources:  http://gaps.me.  Here’s a site listing the recommended/forbidden foods:  http://www.gutandpsychologysyndrome.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/GAPS-Diet-Foods.pdf.  But, it’s a good idea to read about how to manage the diet on the main GAPS web site. 

Campbell-McBride got into the GAPS arena because she has an autistic son, so the web site is targeted to people with serious neurological issues.  However, the GAPS information is really important for anyone with either allergies (all types) or any gastrointestinal issues.  For instance, Campbell-McBride explains that food allergies/intolerances are symptoms of underlying digestive problems and that other symptoms most commonly include pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, indigestion, and urgency.  But, symptoms can also include “migraines, fatigue, PMS, painful joints and itchy skin” as well as “depression, hyperactivity, hallucinations, obsessions and other psychiatric and neurological manifestations” (27). 

In GUT AND PSYCHOLOGY SYNDROME, Campbell-McBride explains that if opportunistic gut microbes become too prevalent and too powerful in a struggling gut, in addition to harming the lining of the gut, they begin to produce toxic wastes of their own.  These toxins affect the brain; they create behavioral problems and can cause or intensify neurological disorders like autism, schizophrenia, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and depression (41-48). (Additionally, I’ve read that some cancer researchers are looking at the relationship of these opportunistic microbes, like the yeast candida albicans, and cancer.)   

Gut dysfunction is caused by ongoing poor nutrition and by not having normal gut flora.  Gut dysfunction causes malabsorption, which, in turn, causes malnutrition and other disturbances in the incredibly delicate chemical balance of a healthy body.  Poor nutrition includes highly processed foods like white flour, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup, and complex carbohydrates from grains and starchy vegetables—all common components of the Standard American Diet (SAD).   

Dr. Thomas Cowan, an MD homeopath, revealed in a recent newsletter that Current TV, Al Gore’s television network, is planning to produce a documentary about the GAPS diet which will suggest that it could be a factor in healing many of our country’s chronic health problems (http://fourfoldhealing.com/2011/03/18/march-17-2011/).  And articles about the importance of having a healthy gut microbial community are appearing in mainstream magazines on a regular basis.  For instance, a January/February 2011 article in “Discover” magazine noted that Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis, who is studying the importance of gut microbes, called the gut microbes a community that is “`an organ within an organ.’ “  The article notes that “the mix of microbes inside you affects how you metabolize food and probably has substantial impact on your health” (51). 

In “Food Allergies,” Campbell-McBride explains that flora and fauna imbalances can begin at birth since a new baby has a sterile gut and picks up the mother’s microbes during her/his passage down the birth canal.  If the mother has microbe imbalances, the baby will be born with them.  If the baby does not pass through the birth canal, as in a Caesarean birth, the baby struggles with the abnormal development of not only gut flora, but other microbe populations within the body, which leads to malnutrition and illness.  And, to behavioral and neurological issues. 

Bottle-fed babies, continues Campbell-McBride, “develop completely different gut flora than breast-fed babies,” which predisposes them to “asthma, eczema, other allergies and other health problems.”  Many modern practices harm our gut flora and fauna.  Antibiotics damage the “beneficial species of bacteria in the gut, leaving it open to invasion by pathogens that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics.”  Contraceptives, too, “have a serious damaging effect on the composition of gut flora” (28-29).  I suspect the array of drugs many of us take daily damage gut microbes.     

Campbell-McBride’s GAPS diet is predated by the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) developed by pediatrician Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas and his son, Dr. Merrill P. Haas, both of whom followed in the footsteps of colleagues working with celiac disease and other digestive disorders.  Campbell-McBride notes that Haas et al discovered that “patients with digestive disorders could tolerate dietary proteins and fats fairly well.”  But, complex carbohydrates from grains and starchy vegetables—often craved by patients–made the problem worse,” as did sucrose, lactose, and other double sugars.  Some fruits and vegetables were “not only well tolerated…but improved…physical status.”  Haas cured over 600 patients with his SCD diet.     

Campbell-McBride describes the “something terrible” that happened next—celiac disease was “defined as a gluten intolerance and a gluten free diet was adopted,” but the new diagnosis “excluded a great number of various other gut problems….”  Haas’s SCD diet was forgotten and “all those other gut diseases, which didn’t fit into the category of true celiac disease, were forgotten as well” (32).  Meanwhile, the food market has  heavily invested in gluten-free products.     

Elaine Gottschall was a mother who, when all else failed, took her very sick child to Haas in the early 1950s.  When Haas cured Gottschall’s daughter in two years,  Gottschall became a biochemist and dedicated her life to helping children like her daughter by promoting Haas’s SCD diet.  Her book BREAKING THE VICIOUS CYCLE is both interesting and useful as it contains recipes, though some use artificial sweeteners. 

Here’s what Gottschall wrote about this bizarre turn of medical history after one report was published in 1952 in the British medical journal “Lancet” :  “A group of six faculty members of the Departments of Pharmacology and of Pediatrics and Child Health of the University of Birmingham, after testing only ten children, decided that it was not the starch (carbohydrate) in the grains that so many had reported as being deleterious, but it was the protein, gluten, in wheat and rye flours that was causing celiac symptoms” (36).  Six physicians and 10 children were all it took to create a new “scientific” understanding.  

Both Campbell-McBride and Gotschall agree that the gluten-free diet does not work permanently and that Haas’s SCD diet does.  Campbell-McBride updated the SCD diet and called it the GAPS diet as her clinical practice continues to prove the connections between food, the gut, and the brain.  (There are American physicians working also in this arena.) 

Much of what we’ve learned is healthy lives in the GAPS diet:  bone broths; nutrient-dense whole foods like good fats, good meats, eggs, cheeses, and cultured dairy like yogurt and kefir; appropriate vegetables and fruits; probiotics; and fermented foods.  It is interesting that the GAPS work is a fit with Gary Taubes’ critique of the role of starchy and sweet carbohydrates in WHY WE GET FAT.  And Campbell-McBride’s work is supported and encouraged by the Weston A. Price Foundation. 

So, if you feel you have digestive or food allergy issues, follow your gut! 

Mainely Tipping Points 26: Strawberries in Winter

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Mainely Tipping Points 26:  Strawberries in Winter

STRAWBERRIES IN WINTER

 It’s February, and in Maine, it’s bitter cold more often than not. We seek out heat and the warmth of the fiery color red.  Not surprisingly, along comes St. Valentine’s Day on the 14th—a day set by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD to honor the martyred Roman Valentine, killed in 269 AD.  This once-Christian holiday was likely overlaid onto a Roman mid-February pagan fertility celebration marking the beginning of spring and of the year’s agricultural calendar.  The associative color red possibly derived from the use of sacrificial blood during the festivities.   

Many of us are longing for spring, and in these mid-February days, along come red, luscious looking strawberries.  These early heralds of “come spring” fruit are shipped to us here in the frozen north mostly from California, which grows “roughly 90 percent of all strawberries sold in the United States” (“Death by Strawberries,” change.org weekly, Nov. 29-December 6, 2010, http://www.askdepkewellness.com/2010/12/death-by-strawberries.html). 

The idea of chocolate-covered strawberries makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?  They’re the ultimate dessert for lovers in February.  But, before you eat them or feed them to your loved ones, consider some cautions.

First, industrially raised strawberries come to you drenched with toxic chemical residues.  Second, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes in its “dirty dozen” handout that rinsing “reduces but does not eliminate pesticides” (http://static.foodnews.org/pdf/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf).  And, third, the 2008-2009 Annual Report of the ,President’s Cancer Panel links exposure to pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) and fertilizers with the formation of cancer in humans.  The report notes that parental exposure to pesticides can impact children prior to conception, in utero, and during childhood (43). 

Strawberries are ranked third on the EWG’s 2010 Dirty Dozen list, which is formed after residue testing is completed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  EWG’s rankings reflect at least six factors, including the total amount of pesticide residues found  and the total amount of different pesticides used. 

Will Allen, in THE WAR ON BUGS (2008), notes that between 2000 and 2005, 97.3 percent of nectarines had pesticide residues, followed by 96.6 percent of peaches and 93.6 percent of apples.  Strawberries ranked fourth.  Peaches and apples, writes Allen, had up to 9 pesticides on a single fruit, and strawberries had up to 8 pesticides on single berries.  Apples had the most residues of all with up to 50 pesticides found on samples.  Strawberries had up to 38 pesticides (242). 

Allen also cautions that very few states have mandatory pesticide use reporting, so there is massive underreporting of the amount of pesticides on our food.  Because California does have a reporting requirement, Allen was able to determine that in 2004, California strawberry growers used just over 11 million pounds of pesticides on an estimated 33,200 acres, or 335.40 pounds per acre (243-244).

In 2004, notes Allen, strawberry growers in California used 184 different pesticides.  But, 80.6 percent of these pesticides were confined to six chemicals.  Four of these six chemicals accounted for 74.1 percent of use and are fumigants “designed to kill all soil life and are among the most dangerous pesticides.”  These four fumigants amounted to about 249 pounds per acre of use. 

Among these four fumigants is methyl bromide, or bromomethane, which was banned in 1987 by the Montreal Protocol because it depletes the ozone layer around earth.  In total, 196 states have ratified this international treaty; President Reagan signed it in 1987.

Yet, twenty-four years later, our government is still allowing strawberry growers, principally in California and Florida, to use methyl bromide under “critical use” exemptions.   According to Wikipedia, in 2004, over 7 million pounds of bromomethane were applied in California on tomatoes and strawberries, in ornamental shrub nurseries, and for the fumigation of ham/pork products” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromomethane).  The EPA is now accepting 2011 applications for 15 crops, to include “tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucurbits, orchard replants, and post-harvest uses (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/mbr/2010_nomination.html). 

According to the EPA, methyl bromide is “highly toxic,” especially for application workers.  Further, the EPA acknowledges that breathing it damages the lungs.  And, once inside the body, it can have a devastating neurological impact and can impact the thyroid and the male testes, which affects reproduction.  And guess what?  Though methyl bromide has been used agriculturally since the 1930s and though it has always been recognized as being highly toxic, the EPA doesn’t know whether or not it causes cancer (http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/methylbr.html). 

Indeed, the President’s Cancer Panel notes that “approximately 40 chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probably, or possible human carcinogens, are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market” (45). 

Allen notes the following:  “Methyl bromide…causes mutations, tumors, and monstrous birth defects.  It is incredibly lethal in very small doses:  consequently very few of its victims survive.  Unlike the case for many other chemicals, pest resistance to methyl bromide has been low, with only a dozen or so organisms that have shown any tolerance to it after almost seventy years of continuous exposure.  This lack of resistance is clearly due to the fact that the chemical kills almost all of the members of a population and leaves few if any resistant survivors” (234). 

Allen demonstrates in THE WAR ON BUGS how the chemical industry replaces a discredited chemical with a new, largely untested chemical.  The EPA approved the fumigant methyl iodide, or iodomethane, in 2007 at 193 parts per billion (ppb).  At the time, fifty-four academic scientists and physicians, among them six Nobel laureates, wrote the EPA and asked for the chemical to be banned ((Jill U. Adams, “A Closer Look:  Pesticides in strawberry fields,” June 28, 2010, The Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/28/health/la-he-closer-strawberries-pesticide-20100628; and “Death by Strawberries”).    

On December 20, 2010, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approved methyl iodide for use in strawberry fields, despite the fact that the eight-person independent scientific review panel the DPR appointed to review the chemical declared that it is highly toxic, that its use would expose large numbers of the public, and that it would be difficult to control” (Pesticide Action Network Action Alert, “Because PR can’t trump science, if you speak up,”   http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DeathofCommonSense/message/1351).  Additionally, methyl iodide is listed under California’s Proposition 65 as a carcinogen ((Julie Cart, “Farmworkers challenge approval of methyl iodide on strawberry fields,” The Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2011, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2010/11/methyl-iodide-pesticide-cancer-california.html?cid=6a00d8341c630a53ef013489abc225970c).  The panel noted that methyl iodide can alter DNA and can contaminate groundwater.  And, the panel cautioned that the lack of research on the chemical should give the DPR pause and that tests on animals link methyl iodide to miscarriages, cognitive impairment and thyroid toxicity (Cart).   

The California DPR mandated 96 ppb, which is more than either the risk assessment scientists within the DPR or the panel recommended.  The DPR scientists settled on 0.8 ppb, and panel member Edward Loechler, a molecular biologist at Brandeis University in Boston, said “we all thought, if anything, it should be lower.”  Panel member Dr. Paul Blanc, head of the occupational and environmental medicine division at UC San Francisco said, “that’s not policy—that’s meddling with the science” (Adams). 

Adams noted that Susan Kegley, who consults for The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), pointed to a study released in June about the air in Sisquoc, California.  Levels of chloropicrine, a soil fumigant, were higher than either the EPA or the California DPR consider safe.  (Treated fields are covered immediately with tarps.) Kegley noted that the same thing could happen with methyl iodide. 

Shortly after the California DPR’s ruling, a group of environmental and community health organizations, representing agricultural workers, challenged the ruling in court on the grounds that it violates, among other laws, the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act (Cart).

Strawberries, like all industrial monocrop cultures, are grown in sterile, toxic soil; are lacking nutrients; and will continue to require increasingly heavier toxic chemical loads. It is becoming abundantly clear that commerce has corrupted science and our regulatory mechanisms so that permitted chemical levels are harming humans—which is why the President’s Cancer Panel Report recommends reducing exposure to pesticides by choosing “food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.”

Our own, local, organic strawberries, available in June and for most of the summer, seem more than worth the wait.

Tipping Points 11: The Chemical Madness Maze

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Tipping Points 11

The Chemical Madness Maze

  

Three events in the past few weeks are swirling around in my mind. 

First, blueberries made the “dirty dozen” produce list.  At position 5, blueberries join apples (4) and potatoes (11)—all major crops for Maine farmers.  Being on the “dirty dozen” list is not good for business. 

Second, The President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) released its 2008-2009 report entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk:  What We Can Do Now.”  Consumers, especially parents, are urged by the Cancer Panel to “buy food that has not been sprayed or grown with chemical fertilizers,” a message that is increasing in frequency and volume these days. 

Nicholas D. Kristof called the President’s Cancer Panel “the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream.”  And, former President George W. Bush appointed the Cancer Panel’s current members:  an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University and an immunologist at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  The Cancer Panel’s report is available on-line:  http://pcp.cancer.gov .  I urge you, especially if you are a parent or are involved in chemical applications, to read it. 

Third, Maine’s Pesticide Control Board (PCB) has scheduled a series of public meetings (May 14, June 24 and 25, and July 23) to discuss the public’s right-to-know about chemical spraying.  Existing law concerning the pesticide registry, where people could register to be notified of spraying, was seriously weakened last year. 

The seven members of the PCB are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature.  Because the constitution of this board obviously was designed for political and perceived economic reasons, board members are expected to defend their particular turfs, which includes chemical farming and forestry and chemical spraying businesses. 

The Cancer Panel report states that our regulatory system for chemicals is deeply broken; that we are putting ourselves and, more importantly, our children at great risk; and that we must adopt precautionary measures rather than using reactionary measures (waiting until sufficient maiming and killing has occurred) with regard to the more than 80,000 improperly tested chemicals we are allowing to be dispersed with impunity. 

 In 2009, the Cancer Panel report discloses, 1.5  million people were diagnosed with cancer and 562,000 people died of cancer.   Today, some 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their life times.  From 1975–2006, cancer incidence in U.S. children under 20 years of age has increased. 

The Cancer Panel directly connects cancer and environmental toxins:  “a growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.”  The Cancer Panel is “particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and that human “exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.” 

The Cancer Panel sums up current problems with our regulatory systems.  Included among the problems are “undue industry influence,” “weak laws and regulations,” and “inadequate funding and insufficient staffing.”  What results is “agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.”

For instance, the Cancer Panel determines that the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) “may be the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants.”  TSCA “grandfathered in approximately 62,000 chemicals; today, more than 80,000 chemicals are in use, and 1,000–2,000 new chemicals are created and introduced into the environment each year.”   Yet, writes the Panel, “TSCA does not include a true proof-of-safety provision”—which means “neither industry nor government confirm the safety of existing or new chemicals prior to their sale and use.”

TSCA allows chemical companies, reveals the Cancer Panel, to avoid discovering worrisome product information, which must be reported, by simply not conducting toxicity tests.  And, as the “EPA can only require testing if it can verify that the chemical poses a health risk to the public,” the “EPA has required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals in commerce and has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals.”  Additionally, “chemical manufacturers have successfully claimed that much of the requested submissions are confidential, proprietary information.”  So, “it is almost impossible for scientists and environmentalists to challenge the release of new chemicals.”  

In addition, the Cancer Panel notes that the U.S. “does not use most of the international measures, standards, or classification structures for environmental toxins that have broad acceptance in most other countries,” which makes meaningful comparisons difficult.  Further, U.S. standards are “less stringent than international equivalents.” 

In the chapter on agricultural chemicals, the Cancer Panel reports that “the entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping.  Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties.”  For instance,” pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides)” approved for use by the EPA “contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic.  Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer.”

The Cancer Panel states that agricultural chemicals do not stay put.  Sprayed chemicals migrate on the air and into the water, creating toxic trespass into other peoples’ lives.  Indeed, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who is quoted in the report, writes in her book LIVING DOWNSTREAM, that “in general, less that 0.1 percent of pesticides applied for pest control actually reach their target pests, leaving 99.9 percent to move into the general environment.” 

Farmers, their families, their workers, and chemical sprayers (including crop dusters) bear the highest health risks, according to the Cancer Panel.   Farm children, especially those living near pesticide use, have consistently elevated leukemia rates.  Exposure to the nearly 1,400 EPA-registered pesticides “has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian (female spouses), pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma.”  

It is very clear that we cannot continue using untested chemicals.  It is very clear that we are massively harming our children.  It is very clear that we must develop a political will for change and that we must devise ways to help the people caught in the chemical madness maze to escape it without undue financial penalty.       

Therefore, it follows that we must all understand that the problem at hand is not how to organize a chemical spraying registry.  It follows that we must all understand that the problem for individual PCB members is no longer how to protect present chemical practices.  The problem that we must all now face is how to stop the use of untested, toxic, dangerous chemicals. 

Statements to the PCB can be sent to the Director, Henry Jennings, henry.jennings@maine.gov.        

Write the PCB members and tell them that you recognize that they now have an incredibly difficult task.  Tell them that they must understand now that their primary responsibility must be to protect us and to protect themselves and their loved ones.  Tell them that this duty must supercede all other considerations.

Tipping Points 2: Winning the Cancer War

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Tipping Points 2

April 2, 2010

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Winning the Cancer War

In June 2001, my niece and godchild Catherine, at twenty-seven years of age, died.  An aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma took her down in thirteen months.  She left behind her eighteen-month old daughter; a not-yet-thirty-year-old husband; and an extended family and a network of friends who all had tried, as she had, to move heaven and earth to preserve her life. 

Catherine’s death created a black hole in the fabric of the lives of those who loved her.  And, her death was most likely a casualty of the careless, heedless pollution of the land, water, and air on the rural Eastern Shore of Virginia where she lived.  There, the commercial chicken industry grows, slaughters, and dumps waste onto the fields and into the Chesapeake Bay.  There, large commercial agriculture grows vegetables for nearby urban markets, using, of course, the full array of agricultural chemicals.   

Catherine’s cancer and death is a metaphor for what is wrong in our society.  It was not until my early forties in the 1980s that I started noticing how many people around me were dying of cancer.  How many Americans, I now wonder, have to experience the kind of horrible death Catherine endured before we wake up, stop calling cancer “normal,” and insist that the poisonous practices causing cancer be stopped? 

But, when will this BIG tipping point arrive?

Catherine’s death produced a fork in the road for me.  I could continue to live life as usual.  Or, I could realize that life is precious and sometimes much shorter than we expect, and I could answer a deep longing to return to a quieter,  rural life lived closer to the earth, to its seasons, to nature.  That’s how I got to Maine. 

And, once in Maine, some time after I passed out at her dinner table from a food reaction, my neighbor recommended I read Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s book, LIVING DOWNSTREAM.  Steingraber is a scientist (biology) and an heir to Rachael Carson, who died of lymphoma.  Steingraber’s life choices have been made from the “watchful waiting” platform of one who had bladder cancer in her twenties.  She studies, and now shares, what she has learned about cancer and the connections between cancer and environmental degradation.

Steingraber demonstrates that we have no comprehensive national cancer registry.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) “does not attempt to record all cases of cancer in the country, but instead samples about 14 percent of the populace” (37).  This sampling comes from five states and five specific metropolitan areas and has only been in place since 1973.  Other factors further complicate this sampling:  different states collect data differently, some are years behind in analysis, and the data cannot account for people who move around the country.  Some states, like Vermont, not in the NCI registry, have only had cancer registries since 1992 (41-42). 

Regardless of this vexed statistical terrain, Steingraber says it is possible to determine that “the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3 percent between 1950 and 1991,” that “40 percent of us…will contract the disease sometime within our lifespans,” and that lymphoma is one of the cancers that has “escalated over the past twenty years” (41-42).  Indeed, the cancer that killed Catherine, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is one of three cancers “ascending most swiftly in the United States,” tripling since 1950 (47, 51).  Lymphomas are “consistently associated” with the phenoxy pesticides and herbicides which are used widely on crops, lawns, gardens, timber stands, and golf courses (52).  And, lymphomas occur in higher rates in agricultural areas (52, 64-65).  

My mother died in July 2009 from the same type of cancer that killed Catherine.  She lived in rural Georgia across the road from a young peach orchard posted with scull-and-crossbones poison signs and still reeking of chemicals many weeks after spraying occurred.  Even walking down the road next to the orchard drenched our clothes with the chemical odor.  Steingraber explains that when a chemical is sprayed, “less than 0.1 percent” stays on the target; the rest, or 99.9 percent, drifts “into the general environment (179).”  So, it is logical that lymphoma cancer rates are growing.

Now, in Georgia, where once there were dozens of peach farms in every little town, only about five companies control the commercial production of peaches—which means the connection between peach growers and those who live with their poisonous practices is broken.  This kind of distance is occurring all across the terrain of food as consumers, too, are distanced from the production of their food, which allows heinous practices to occur, from the spraying of poisonous chemicals, to the torture of animals, to the production of fake foods.      

Steingraber traces the history of the shift from a carbohydrate-based economy to a petrochemical-based economy after World War II when the chemical industry needed a new use for stockpiled war-produced chemicals.   After 1945, “between 45,000 and 100,000 chemicals” came into common use and only “1.5 to 3 percent” or “1,200 to 1,500 chemicals” have ever been “tested for carcinogenicity” (99).  These petroleum-derived synthetic chemicals “easily interact” with our bodies and, thus, interfere with our life processes.  Many are soluble in fat and collect in animal tissues high in fat, like human brains, breasts, bone marrows, and livers, all of which are sites where cancer is increasing.  Additionally, many of these synthetic chemicals are often not biodegradable, so they do not decay as does organic matter.  But, they are not static:  many shed, or, “off-gas,” the “smaller, more reactive molecules from which they are made,” producing new chemicals that remain largely uninvestigated, let alone monitored or regulated.  Further, when burned, many of these substances can create new reactive chemicals, like dioxin, which is poisonous (91-100).          

In totality, American industries and we, ourselves, are, every day, putting tons of chemicals into our environment without considering the implications for humans or for the earth itself.  In the early 1990s, in Steingraber’s home state of Illinois alone, “54 million pounds of synthetic pesticides” went onto agricultural fields annually and in 1992, Illinois industries “released more than 100 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment” (5-6).  We are, Steingraber argues, “running an uncontrolled experiment using human subjects” (270)—an experiment that has had deadly consequences since the World Health Organization has concluded that “at least 80 percent of all cancer is attributable to environmental influences” (60).  Thus, cancer cells, Steingraber argues, are “made, not born” (241).    

So, cancer is NOT caused by having bad genes or not getting enough exercise.  Cancer is being caused by the cocktail we have created, which includes at least the following ingredients:  environmental poisons; fake, highly processed foods; the overuse and mixing of dangerous prescription drugs; and the stress of modern life. 

Cancer is a creature of corporatism, of unregulated industries which are not held accountable for the harm they do.  Cancer is the blowback from a society that puts profit ahead of people and individuals ahead of community.  Cancer itself is an extremely profitable industry.  Cancer is a metaphor we can and must change.

We can start by strengthening ties in our own community.  Begin buying local products from those who follow sustainable practices.     

 

Written by louisaenright

April 2, 2010 at 10:52 pm