Preventing Personal Injury and Wrongful Death: Avoid These Carcinogens
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Preventing Personal Injury and Wrongful Death: Avoid These Carcinogens

Sunday, February 11, 2001By Richard Alexander

The World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C. reports that cancer death is increasing with little explanation of the cause.

The first step in preventing cancer is public education on healthy living and idedntifying known carcinogens.

The second step is empowering the courts and our legal system to hold accountable the manufacturers and distributors of known carcinogens that cause personal injuries and wrongful deaths.   I promise you that cancer prevention will become the watchword of American business when it is no longer profitable to sell foods contaminated with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and preservatives and manfacture products that contain known carcinogens.

Some chemicals, while causing no observable immediate harm after days or months of exposure, will cause cancer years later. An informed person must read labels and know exactly what chemicals they are using at home and at work.

Unfortunately most manufacturers do not report the effects of low level, long-term exposures. The following chemicals, for example, should never be used without protective clothing and breathing protection, and to find out exactly how dangerous they are ask your local dump operator how to legally dispose of them.

Benzene

Benzene causes leukemia. It is used as an antiknock additive in gasoline. It is also found in paints, inks, adhesives, rubbers, glues, old spot removers, and furniture wax. Rubber workers exposed to benzene had a tenfold increase in leukemia. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends workers should not be exposed to 1 parts per ten million. Gasoline fumes have 1,000 times the concentration recommended by NIOSH. Never breathe gas fumes.

Polyvinyl Chloride

Polyvinyl chloride, a plastic used in pipe, electrical wire and cable, home furnishings, toys, packaging, upholstery and auto parts, is made from vinyl chloride. It causes liver cancer, with a latency period is 15 to 40 years. Never inhale smoke from burning foam or plastic, such as in a car fire, and never dispose of these materials in a scrap fire or fireplace.

Methylene Chloride

Methylene chloride is a popular solvent for resins, fats, and waxes and is used in paint, thinners, removers, adhesives, film, plastics, inks, foams, hairsprays, anti-perspirants, air fresheners, and printed circuit boards. Exposed workers have an increased incidence of pancreatic and liver cancer deaths. It produces malignant liver and lung neoplasms in animals. EPA considers it a probable human carcinogen.

Trichloroethylene

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is used for degreasing metal parts. It is found in typewriter correction fluids, paint removers and strippers, adhesives, and spot removers. TCE in mice produces liver and lung tumors, kidney cancers, testicular tumors and leukemia in rats. Exposed workers have a high incidence of bladder cancer and lymphomas. It is probably a human carcinogen.

Perchloroethylene

Tetrachloroethylene and perchloroethylene have been used in dry cleaning, degreasing metal, suede protectors, paint removers, water repellents, silicone lubricants, adhesives, spot removers, wood cleaners and many products used by hobbyists. In studies of rats and mice, liver and kidney cancers and leukemia have been produced at a sufficient level to cause EPA to classify it as an animal carcinogen and a probable human carcinogen. Old cans of spot remover contain this material.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) include 209 related chemicals and are found in transformers manufactured before 1977, older welding equipment, x-ray machines, refrigerators and in fluorescent light fixtures. In laboratory tests PCBs cause liver, pituitary, and gastrointestinal tumors, as well as leukemia and lymphomas. EPA considers PCBs probable human carcinogens.

Dioxins and Furans

Dioxins and furans are found in chlorinated organic solvents, pesticides, weed killers, wood preservatives, and charcoal starter. Although no longer manufactured in the U.S., they can still be found in the herbicide 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. EPA considers dioxin to be a "cancer promoter" and classifies it as a probable human carcinogen. Be safe and take the old cans of weed killer in the garage to your closest hazardous waste disposal facility.

Conclusion

Unfortunately while manufacturers should test suspected carcinogens, they do not conduct necessary testing for many reasons and we will never learn what causes cancer unless we are willing to pay for the research.  And they have successfully lobbied for laws and regulations that allow them to conceal "inert" ingredients in products, many of which are extremely harmful.

Worse, manufacturers always hide behind Material Safety Data Sheets that report the most favorable studies on individual chemical components and often avoid including contrary views.  No manufacturer's MSDS discusses the medical effect of chemicals in combinations, which is the way they are used at work and in the home.  That is largely true because toxicologists test individual chemicals on animals and do not test combinations or mixtures.

Since WWII physicians for the American Chemical Society have known of the risk of chemicals used in mixtures and have warned that allowable exposure levels cannot be relied upon when chemicals are being used in combinations.

Add to this the problem of small, daily doses of chemicals.  Just enough to feel, but not causing severe headaches or nausea.  With the symptoms clearing as soon as a person is removed from exposure.  It is these small exposures, day after day, that disrupt DNA, cell building and cancer suppression leading to severe personal injuries and wrongful deaths.

In an ideal world, every cancer care facility should have a full-time professional whose sole duty would be to document a patient's history of chemical exposure. Oncologists cannot be expected to undertake the long interviews to learn about past chemical exposures that have little to do with keeping their patient alive. On the other hand, industrial hygienists are specially trained to gather this type of information and pilot projects at major cancer care centers would be invaluable in expanding our understanding.

We do not have time to waste. Unless we begin gathering information on chemical exposures, our children's death rate from cancer will make ours look good by comparison.

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Richard Alexander

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