Tag Archives: pancreatic cancer

Trail of cancer deaths near plastics factory linked to tap water

After his factory worker father died a painful death from kidney cancer at age 68 in 2013, Michael Hickey made it his mission to find out why so many people in his New York hometown along the Hoosic River were getting sick.

Two years later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned residents of Hoosick Falls not to drink or cook with water from municipal wells, and a plastics plant has agreed to install a $2 million carbon filtration system at the village water treatment plant.

This most recent link discovered between cancer and polluted water should be of major concern to Wisconsin.  Last October, Midwest Environmental Advocates requested an EPA investigation of the Wisconsin DNR for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act in the state. Clean water advocates want the federal agency to strip Wisconsin of its authority to control water pollution if it doesn’t do a better job.

The excessive water pollution allowed by Walker and the state’s Republican leadership has raised eyebrows all over the nation for its transparently aggressive attempt to reward major donors affiliated with Koch Industries and Big Ag, which have contributed many millions of dollars to their campaigns.

Esquire magazine reported last November that the “deregulation regime put in place by (Gov. Scott) Walker and his pet legislature, which necessarily involved defanging the state’s environmental oversight authorities, is rendering much of Wisconsin’s water into a chemistry set. Between the nitrates leaching into rural wells from the over-farming of big agriculture, to towns that use a loophole in the regulations to … wait for it … avoid having to pay to purify their water supplies, the kitchen tap has become a prime venue for Russian roulette.”

One-man campaign

In Hooosick Falls, Hickey launched a one-man campaign to bring local water pollution to federal attention. He took it upon himself to examine the industrial pollution released into the groundwater in the factory village near the Vermont border, where his father had worked for 35 years at a plant that made high-performance plastics similar to Teflon. So Hickey searched online for “cancer” and “Teflon.”

What he found: PFOA.

Perfluorooctanoic acid, a water and oil repellent, had been used since the 1940s in products including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and microwave popcorn bags. Manufacturers agreed to phase it out by the end of 2015 shortly after DuPont reached a $16.5 million settlement with the EPA over the company’s failure to report possible health risks associated with PFOA.

A scientific panel that conducted health studies as part of a DuPont settlement of a West Virginia class-action lawsuit concluded there was a “probable link” between PFOA exposure and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

In Hoosick Falls, nobody has ever scientifically documented that the village has an unusually high cancer rate, but Hickey and a local doctor had heard enough anecdotal evidence that they felt it should be addressed.

“There’s always been talk around town about how there’s a lot of cancer,” Hickey said. “When my dad, who didn’t drink or smoke, was diagnosed with kidney cancer, that made it more personal.”

Dr. Marcus Martinez, the family doctor for many of the village’s 3,500 residents, added there certainly seemed to be a high rate of cancer there, particularly rare, aggressive forms. The 44-year-old Martinez himself is in remission from atypical bronchial carcinoid tumor, a rare form of lung cancer.

When the two men suggested testing the village water supply, part-time Mayor David Borge at first refused, citing state guidelines. New York state classifies PFOA as an “unspecified organic contaminant” and doesn’t require testing for it.

The EPA has a non-enforceable guidance level of 400 parts per trillion — roughly 4 teaspoons in enough water to fill a 10-mile string of rail tankers.

Hickey used his own money in summer 2014 to have water from his kitchen tap and other sources tested. The results showed PFOA at 540 ppt from Hickey’s home, exceeding the EPA’s guidance. Village officials subsequently tested the municipal supply and found PFOA at similar levels.

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, part of a Paris-based global conglomerate, in 1999 became the fifth owner of a plastics factory in Hoosick Falls. It conducted tests in the summer of 2015 and reported a PFOA level of 18,000 ppt in groundwater under its plant, 500 yards from the village’s main water wells.

“Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is committed to helping the village of Hoosick Falls with this situation,” company spokesman Carmen Ferrigno said. While the source of the PFOA contamination hasn’t been identified, Saint-Gobain has been paying for bottled water for residents since November and has agreed to pay for filtration to remove the chemical from the public water supply, he said.

Hickey and Martinez, along with Albany environmental lawyer David Engel, weren’t satisfied. They wanted people to be told not to drink the tap water, along with a full investigation and remediation.

Engel contacted Judith Enck, who heads the EPA region that includes New York. She issued a statement in December warning residents not to drink or cook with village water. Until then, state and village officials had told residents the water was unlikely to cause health problems.

On Jan. 14, Enck and a panel of leading EPA scientists addressed a standing-room-only crowd at Hoosick Falls’ high school auditorium. The same day, New York officials asked the EPA to add the Saint-Gobain plant and other possible sources of contamination in Hoosick Falls to the Superfund priorities list. The state health department also recently announced plans to study cancer rates in the village and vicinity.

“We are giving this contamination problem a high priority,” Enck said. “A very detailed study of groundwater is needed in Hoosick Falls to know what we are dealing with and how to best address it.”

Engel said that the village’s plan to install filters at the water plant is a good first step, but that the long-term solution should be to establish new wells to replace the contaminated ones.

Kevin Allard, 58, who worked at the plastics plant in the 1980s, said his mother died of pancreatic cancer at 54 and his father died of thyroid cancer at 81. In 2006, a 25-year-old friend of Allard’s son died of pancreatic cancer. Now, he worries about the health of his children, in their early 30s.

“They grew up on that water,” he said. “That’s what concerns me.”

Hot dogs, cold cuts and red meat classified as carcinogens

Bacon, hot dogs and cold cuts are under fire: The World Health Organization threw its global weight behind years of experts’ warnings and declared Monday that processed meats raise the risk of colon and stomach cancer and that red meat is probably harmful, too.

Meat producers are angry, vegetarians are feeling vindicated, and cancer experts are welcoming the most comprehensive pronouncement yet on the relation between our modern meat-eating lifestyles and cancer.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, analyzed decades of research and for the first time put processed meats in the same danger category as smoking or asbestos. That doesn’t mean salami is as bad as cigarettes, only that there’s a confirmed link to cancer. And even then, the risk is small.

The results aren’t that shocking in the U.S., where many parents fret over chemicals in cured meats and the American Cancer Society has long cautioned against eating too much steak and deli.

But the U.N. agency’s findings could shake up public health attitudes elsewhere, such as European countries where sausages are savored and smoked ham is a national delicacy.

And they could hurt the American meat industry, which is arguing vigorously against linking their products with cancer, contending that the disease involves a number of lifestyle and environmental factors.

While U.S. rates of colon cancer have been declining, it is the No. 2 cancer for women worldwide and No. 3 for men, according to the WHO.

A group of 22 scientists from the IARC evaluated more than 800 studies from several continents about meat and cancer. The studies looked at more than a dozen types of cancer in populations with diverse diets over the past 20 years.

Based on that analysis, the IARC classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans,” noting links in particular to colon cancer. It said red meat contains some important nutrients, but still labeled it “probably carcinogenic,” with links to colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

The agency made no specific dietary recommendations and said it did not have enough data to define how much processed meat is too dangerous. But it said the risk rises with the amount consumed.

An analysis of 10 of the studies suggested that a 50-gram portion of processed meat daily — or about 1.75 ounces — increases the risk of colorectal cancer over a lifetime by about 18 percent.

An ounce and three-quarters is roughly equivalent to a hot dog or a few slices of bologna, though it depends on how thinly it is sliced.

Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer in the U.S. is about 1 in 20, or 5 percent, according to the cancer society. By the WHO’s calculations, having a cold-cut sandwich every day would only raise that to around 6 percent.

Experts have long warned of the dangers of certain chemicals used to cure meat, such as nitrites and nitrates, which the body converts into cancer-causing compounds. It is also known that grilling or smoking meat can create suspected carcinogens.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr. Kurt Straif of the IARC said in a statement. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The cancer agency noted research by the Global Burden of Disease Project suggesting that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are linked to diets heavy in processed meat. That compared with 1 million deaths a year linked to smoking, 600,000 a year to alcohol consumption and 200,000 a year to air pollution.

Doctors in rich countries especially have long counseled against eating lots of red or processed meat — and not just because of the cancer danger but because of the heart risks from the saturated fat and sodium.

The WHO researchers defined processed meat as anything transformed to improve its flavor or preserve it, including sausages, beef jerky and anything smoked. They defined red meat to include beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

The report said grilling, pan-frying or other high-temperature methods of cooking red meat produce the highest amounts of chemicals suspected of causing cancer.

“This is an important step in helping individuals make healthier dietary choices to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer in particular,” said Susan Gapstur of the American Cancer Society, which has recommended limiting red and processed meat intake since 2002, and suggests choosing fish or poultry or cooking red meat at low temperatures.

The North American Meat Institute argued in a statement that “cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods.”

Independent experts stressed that the WHO findings should be kept in perspective.

“Three cigarettes per day increases the risk of lung cancer sixfold,” or 500 percent, compared with the 18 percent from eating a couple slices of bologna a day, said Gunter Kuhnle, a food nutrition scientist at the University of Reading.

“This is still very relevant from a public health point of view, as there are more than 30,000 new cases per year” of colon cancer, he said. “But it should not be used for scaremongering.”

Sally Ride, first U.S. woman in space, dies at 61

Sally Ride, who blazed trails into orbit as the first American woman in space, died July 23 of pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

Ride died at her home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, said Terry McEntee, a spokeswoman for her company, Sally Ride Science. She was a private person and the details of her illness were kept to just a few people, she said.

She is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.

Ride rode into space on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 when she was 32. After her flight, more than 42 other American women flew in space, NASA said.

“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said Ride “broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America’s space program.”

“The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers,” he said in a statement.

Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.

She was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978, the same year she earned her doctorate in physics from Stanford University. She beat out five women to be the first American female in space. Her first flight came two decades after the Soviets sent a woman into space

“On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad,” Ride recalled in a NASA interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008. “I didn’t really think about it that much at the time — but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space.”

Ride flew in space twice, both times on Challenger in 1983 and in 1984, logging 343 hours in space. A third flight was cancelled when Challenger exploded in 1986. She was on the commission investigating that accident and later served on the panel for the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, the only person on both boards.

She also was on the president’s committee of science advisers.

The 20th anniversary of her first flight also coincided with the loss of Columbia, a bittersweet time for Ride, who discussed it in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. She acknowledged it was depressing to spend the anniversary investigating the accident, which killed seven astronauts.

“But in another sense, it’s rewarding because it’s an opportunity to be part of the solution and part of the changes that will occur and will make the program better,” she said.

Later in the interview, she focused on science education and talked about “being a role model and being very visible.”

“She was very smart,” said former astronaut Norman Thagard, who was on Ride’s first flight. “We did have a good time.”

It was all work on that first flight, except for a first-in-space sprint around the inside of the shuttle, Thagard recalled by phone on Monday. He didn’t know who won.

One of Ride’s last legacies was allowing middle school students to take their own pictures of the moon using cameras aboard NASA’s twin Grail spacecraft in a project spearheaded by her company.

“Sally literally could have done anything with her life. She decided to devote her life to education and to inspiring young people. To me, that’s such a powerful thing. It’s extraordinarily admirable,” said Maria Zuber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads the Grail mission.

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