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Environmental Health Controversies.docx

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York University
Social Science
SOSC 1801
Jon Johnson

January 9, 2012 E NVIRONMENTAL H EALTH C ONTROVERSIES C ANCER W HY ISC ANCER CONTROVERSIAL ?  Dramatic increase in cancer rates since the mid 20 century – why?  Debates and scientific uncertainty over the main causes of cancer and the best way to approach the problem o E.g., scientists who focus on ecology tend to look at the environmental causes, while others may be predisposed to focus on lifestyle  Evidence that the political, economic and ideological interests of doctors, researchers and industries are being furthered at the expense of public health T HER APID RISE INCANCER  Cancer rates increased dramatically since World War II because: o Longer lifespans (i.e., healthcare) o Aging population (an older population means more diseases like diabetes and arthritis) o Better detection o Unofficial causes of death could be cancer  All cancers (except lung cancer) increased: o By 35% from 1950-1991 o By 20% from 1973-1991  Childhood cancers are also rising dramatically, what causes young children to be diagnosed to cancers like leukemia, brain cancer and lymphoma? o All cancers increased over 20% in the last 30 years o Leukemia increased by 27% (1973-1990) o Brain cancer increased by 40% (1973-1990)  Approximately 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer in their lifetime T HEC AUSES OF CANCER  Environmental Focus o Many say that most (80-90%) of cancer is caused by exposure carcinogens, not as a result of your genes. It’s because of something that you’ve been exposed to in your lifetime. o Focus on reducing exposures in order to prevent cancer because if you can prevent it, you don’t have to treat it and prevent any suffering and pain. o Rise in cancer rates closely parallels rise in exposures  I.e., new chemicals came out of WWII and became widespread and have been shown to cause cancer  Lifestyle Focus o Cancer is caused by unhealthy lifestyles (i.e., smoking, lack of exercise, diet) o If anything you do causes cancer, therefore the main focus on changing behavior o But healthy individuals also often get cancer  I.e., Olivia Newton (actress/singer) – lived a healthy lifestyle but was diagnosed with breast cancer  Biomedical Focus 1 o Cancer is a genetic disease; it happens when your DNA breaks done and makes it impossible for the body to control the spread of tumors. But this doesn’t suggest what causes this to happen. However, our genes have not changed enough over the years to claim that this is in fact the cause o Focus on cure and treatment o But can genetics alone account for the increase? o Adopted children have cancer rates similar to adoptive parents; therefore, the genetics is not as strong as the environmental focus. Because you’d expect the adoptive children to experience similar diseases to their biological parents. o The biomedical focus is strong, but never the strongest reason for the cause of cancer L INKING C ANCER AND THE ENVIRONMENT  Cancer is a genetic disease, but many chemicals and radiation are mutagenic o Agricultural chemicals (i.e., pesticides, herbicides) o Cigarettes o Hormones - an increase in estrogen is linked to cancer (i.e., birth control pills, Hormonal Replacement Treatment – HRT) DES,) o Radiation (i.e.., x-ray, solar, nuclear, microwave) o Building materials (i.e., Styrofoam, asbestos, formaldehyde – exists in glued-together wood, arsenic, solvents – like paint thinner) o Plastics and plasticizers (i.e., PVC, phthalates) o Diesel exhaust and carbon monoxide o Heavy metals (i.e., mercury, chrominum-6 – exists in water supply) o Cleaning agents (i.e., ammonia, chorine, detergents)  Production, use and exposure to mutagenic chemicals has risen exponentially since World War II  Mutagenic chemicals have shown to not disintegrate, but to bio-accumulate (they move from organism to organism, up the food chain) in living tissues, especially fat.  High body burdens of carcinogenic chemicals have been correlated to increased incidence of various forms of cancer (i.e., human breast milk)  Cancer rates are highest in: o Agricultural areas (i.e., pesticide, herbicide, growth hormones, Diesel) o Industrial/urban areas (i.e., exhaust, industrial emissions) o Near toxic waste sites o Developed countries (256/100, 000 vs. 178/100, 000 in developing countries – they have lower cancer rates than we do, and less carcinogens)  Video: “Chasing the Cancer Answer” M ETHODOLOGICAL B ARRIERS  Time lag (exposure – disease); you could be exposed to something, and be diagnosed with cancer 20 years later, therefore it’s very difficult to “prove” that certain things cause cancer  People move around o I.e., people are always moving in and out of Toronto, therefore it’s hard to get an idea as to how much leads to cancer  Inadequate toxicological knowledge (only 1500 of 85,000 chemicals in use have been tested); so many more chemicals are put on the market everyday and they haven’t receive adequate testing because the manufacturers cannot afford the proper testing necessary to test for carcinogens.  Risk assessments mostly study short-term effects, one chemical at a time  Multiple exposures to carcinogens 2 o Formaldehyde – risk assessments cannot account for multiple exposure - you can have it in a product within a certain level, but you can be exposed to it in multiple things in your environment  Double-blind cancer studies are unethical; scientists often insist on these studies  Many studies are required to create scientific certainty o More studies are always good, but how much do you need before you can act on something? P OLITICAL ,E CONOMIC AND IDEOLOGICAL B ARRIERS  Biomedical approach to illness is hegemonic – when we get ill, we turn to doctors; we see them as the best people to look at cancer and treat it. o Focus on individual responsibility, treatment and prevention through lifestyle change. We don’t usually go to doctors when we are ok, we go when we’re ill, therefore the incentive for prevention is not carried through the people we understand to be the most capable. They have little ability or training to link illness to the environment.  Research is focused on detection, treatment and cure o Most funding is for genetic research and treatment; there’s no money to be made in prevention, but there’s millions to be made in treatment o Money to be made in patenting new cancer drugs, therapies and technologies o Less funding and environmental causes and prevention  Economic interests of governments, corporations and industry o Polluting industries struggle to keep focus away from environmental causes; they don’t want us to focus on the environmental causes and prevention. It’s often the case that the government is very against environmental causes of cancer. o Governments are also sometimes culpable for environmental illness o Use of PR, lobbyists, pressure tactics, threats and scientific manipulation to create uncertainty where there otherwise might not be.  Recently the government received the right to sue big tobacco companies for the harm that their products have done o Examining environmental causes is politically, economically and ideologically risky R ACHEL C ARSON  One of the first biologists to bring attention to the harmful effects of DDT  Wrote the award-winning book, Silent Spring (1962), which talked about how DDT is carcinogenic and also harmful to the environment (i.e., decline in bird populations in areas where DDT had been sprayed)  Pesticide companies launched a PR campaign o Highlighted the safety and the importance of pesticides o Threatened to sue the publisher o Attached Carson’s credentials and character, on the basis that she was a woman, and therefore more emotional on the topic (1960s was a more misogynistic time)  Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1960, and died in 1964, which is one of the causes of DDT. She tried to hide this in order to ensure the validity of her book, and prevent being attacked by PR. C ANCER C HARITIES  Heavily controlled by biomedical researchers  Funded by corporate industry sponsors o DuPont (one of the biggest military companies in the world), GE, Nissan o Power, gas and oil companies (nuclear) 3 o Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble o Johnson & Johnson (cosmetic) o BFI waste systems o General Mills (cereal) o Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola o Pharmaceutical and genetic research companies (stake in steering funding of cancer charities to treatment)  Virtually all money goes to research on treatment and cures o Little devoted to the prevention of cancer o Prevention limited to lifestyle factors only  To what degree are the cancer charities hampered by conflicts of interest? S UMMARY  Cancer rates have risen rapidly since World War II, and most of this increase is likely due to environmental toxins  Methodological, political, economic, and ideological barriers have largely prevented awareness of and action on environmental causes of cancer. Jan 13, 2012 Tutorial  Charities and conflict of interest o Pharmaceutical companies are big sponsors of the charities o It’s more about curing cancer then actually preventing it, because these pharmaceutical companies make money by producing products, not preventing the illness. o Charities aren’t corporations – 90% of their budget goes into curing and research, very little goes towards prevention; it’s too difficult to focus on prevention – there’s resistance to restricting current products and practices o There’s still doubt on the actual causes of cancer, therefore people are still unsure, or unaware of these causes 4 January 16, 2012 O CCUPATIONAL HEALTH INDUSTRIALIZATION OF W ORK  Pre-1800s: o Manufacturing largely by ‘cottage industries’ – manufacturing and production was often done at home. People were often experts at their craft and would pass down the craft to future generations. They were skilled laborers and craftspeople. They had complete control over their labor (i.e., when they would work, how much they would sell their products).  Industrial Revolution (1800s) o Rise of mechanized factory labor (i.e., machines, steam engine, coal – replaced work that people would often do). o Increased urbanization and pollution – factory labor drove people to urbanization o Fragmentation and deskilling of labor – Prior to this, one person was responsible for the entire labor, but here, the labor process was broken up (where the labor was fragmented in different parts), leading to the loss of control that one had on his/her own labor. Additionally, the laborer is paid much less because they’re no longer responsible for the entire labor. o Increased work pace low wages, no benefits, no safety standards or worker’s rights o Low control, long hours, no weekend/overtime pay (i.e., 16+ hr. shifts), employers had more control over the workers o Exploitation of female and child labor – performed the same, or more dangerous work and received abysmal pay. M OVIE :M ODERN T IMES (1936) January 20, 2012 Tutorial  Charlie Chaplain wasn’t getting many breaks, and when he did need a break, he was replaced by someone else  Long shifts  Constant surveillance to ensure work  Unhealthy pace of work, stressful  Repetitive movements  Deskilled labor – more power (i.e., Fast-food restaurants, when you’re assigned only one job that essentially anyone can do, therefore if you don’t like your job, you can be replaced quickly. o It’s beneficial for the manufacturer because the job gets done more efficiently  Inadequate training  Good safety training January 23, 2012 LABOR STRUGGLES  Rise of trade unions – there wasn’t any protection for the workers, and during the 1930s and the Great Depression, there was a lack of jobs, therefore, workers did pretty much anything for their employer to keep their jobs o Brutal repression by police, but eventually leads to improvements in working conditions (e.g, there are stories of police who worked for wealthy people, and factory owners who tried to prevent people from unionizing) However, the unions prevail, and we begin to see more unions to help workers 5  Marxism – merges as a critique of industrial capitalism o Idea of class struggle (between the laborers and the capitalists) o Capitalism as a system is inherently exploitative o Profits of capitalist class are made possible by paying workers less than their labor is worth o Trade unions attempted to develop ‘class consciousness’ among workers  “class consciousness” – through the work unions, workers could be able to create something more socialist where the work and labor is not run by capitalists and oppression  Rise of the Welfare State (social benefits) and worker’s rights (Workman’s Compensation) o E.g., Canada’s pension plan R ISING O CCUPATIONAL F ATALITIES IN CANADA  Workplace injury is on the decline o Decline has tapered off since 1997 o 2005 injuries leading to time loss: 337, 930 (i.e., serious injuries like losing fingers, back injuries)  Since 1990s: workplace fatality rate has been increasing – this in controversial because a lot of people have the idea the society is progressing, but it turns out that this is not the case. The idea of workplace safety and fatalities don’t necessarily get better over time. Whether they get better or worse is the outcome of struggle (i.e., profit) o 2005: 6.8 deaths per 100,000 directly related to workplace hazards (almost equally due to accidents and diseases) o 18% increase from 2004 o 45% increase from 1993 E XPLANATIONS  Primary Industry o Canada has an ongoing history of primary industries o Canada has a high number of inherently dangerous jobs  Mining and oil wells (46.9 deaths per 100, 000/year)  Logging and forestry (42.9 deaths per 100, 000/year)  Fishing and trapping (36.5 deaths per 100, 000/year)  Agriculture (28.1 deaths per 100, 000/year)  Construction (20.2 deaths per 100,000/year) o But jobs in primary industries have been decreasing  Construction has been increasing  Asbestos o Prevalent in today’s news – and issue of social justices; some people are lobbying to remove it entirely, however, the Canadian government continues to fund asbestos industries. o Estimated that 70% of increased worker fatality is due to asbestos exposure  Mining, manufacturing (i.e., sealing tiles, wall installation), construction (i.e., when you move the asbestos, you’re also potentially exposed)  Causes asbestosis – huge amount of scaring in the lungs which prevents them from breathing, pleural plaques – scaring of the lung tissue, mesothelioma – very rare form of lung cancer, caused solely by asbestosis, lung cancer 6 o Canada was recently the 2 largest producer of asbestos in the world, most of this comes from Quebec. The controversy here is that it’s banned from Canada, because we refuse to use it since it’s dangerous; we’re still producing it, so where does it go?  It’s exported to 3 world countries like India, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka o WHO, ILO, CMA, EPA, CCC all state that any asbestos is unsafe and should be eliminated o Asbestos industry uses the same tactics as the tobacco industry to promote continued use  They claim that it can be safe if used properly  Creating scientific uncertainty (i.e., they create studies which show the different type of asbestos and the how to properly use it) o Government continues to support asbestos industries in Canada, and pushes for its continuance  Echoes industry’s position on asbestos  Canada doesn’t produce asbestos, but Canada continues to use tax dollars to fund the Chrystotile Institute and lobby for its export  Organization of Work o WSIB Safety Ad (YouTube video) o Any job can be made more dangerous depending on how work is organized  Use safer or cheaper materials?  How much safety training and equipment?  More profitable or safer pace of work? (i.e., faster work is more profitable, but less safe – where does the employer draw the line, how fast is too fast?)  Minimum or safest number of workers to do the job? (i.e., if there was only one chef working at McDonalds, the pressure to cook everything can lead to burns etc.)  How many breaks and for how long? o Employer decisions often based on maximum return on investment rd o Ship-breaking: when ships are determined to be no longer used, they’re sold to 3 world countries to be dismantled - for scrap metal mostly in developing countries (India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan) o They’re provided with very little safety equipment / regulations, and taking the ships apart o Danger of suffocation, explosions, collapse, falls o Exposure to mercury, arsenic, asbestos, dioxin, PCBs, etc.; overtime, you’ll still have to deal with occupational illness o The way the job is organized makes it that much more dangerous o Workers earn about $15-25 / day – the way that employers can make more money P ERSPECTIVES ON W ORKPLACE A CCIDENTS Individual / Apolitical Focus – worker Marxist / Political Critique – worker accidents are accidents are mostly as a result of the worker mostly, if not entirely, because of the employer  Workers and employers share the same  Work-related risk is not shared equally. interests in ensuring the safety of work. Workers are paid less, and bear much more risk compared to employers.  Accidents are unpredictable, but no work is  Employers control working conditions, workers risk-free. Workers just need to be careful – don’t have the power to control the workplace blame is evident here like the employer does.  Accidents are largely a result of cost-benefit analysis that weighs worker safety against profit.  Workers can choose where to work and  Workers are often not informed of the risks. In refuse unsafe work. practice, workers are not usually able to c7ntrol the conditions of their work. S UMMARY  Workplaces in Canada have mostly become safer over time, but we still have relatively high numbers of injuries and fatalities due to workplace accidents and diseases  Workers are often blamed for workplace accidents and diseases, but a Marxist perspective highlights that these are also highly influenced by employer decisions  Should employers / governments be held more accountable for the health and safety of workers? January 27, 2012 Tutorial  Workman’s compensation (from reading)  “Safe for capitalism” (Storey, p. 392) o Some discussion of fault o Keeps workers happy o Less money spent on insurance – spent on compensation o Reputation o Not full salary o Workers compensation is not long, it will run out before your injury is even healed o Workers give up their right to sue – Worker’s compensation is like a bribe between the employer and the employee – if you take workers compensation, you give up your right to sue  Why do workplace injuries happen? o Inadequate training, lack of experience o Pace of work is too fast o Repetitive movements o Long shifts, creates worker fatigue o Too few employees to do the job – means that there’s extra strain put on the employees o Negligent workers o Low workers morale – can be caused by poor wage,  Unions – some companies are unionized and these unions can protect the rights of the workers, and ensure that workers are being treated fairly o Wages tend to be higher in unionized companies, and more power to the worker to negotiate their own working conditions 8 January 23, 2012 E NVIRONMENTAL R ACISM CONTROVERSY  Environmental pollution and its health effects are not distributed equal – there are some people in society that are more exposed to environmental pollution than others o Poor, minority communities are more exposed to environmental hazards than white affluent groups  Minority communities more often o Are not informed of hazards until they get sick o Governments may know of these hazards, but because these groups are powerless, it’s very difficult to be taken seriously  Debate: is disproportionate exposure of poor and minority communities to environmental hazards due primarily to racism or economics? W HAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM ?  Racism: discrimination perpetuated by a dominant
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