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Lecture

SOSC 1801 Lecture Notes - Asthma, Deskilling, Class Conflict


Department
Social Science
Course Code
SOSC 1801
Professor
Jon Johnson

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January 9, 2012
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONTROVERSIES
CANCER
WHY IS CANCER CONTROVERSIAL?
Dramatic increase in cancer rates since the mid 20th 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
THE RAPID RISE IN CANCER
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
THE CAUSES 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

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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
LINKING CANCER 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”
METHODOLOGICAL BARRIERS
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

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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?
POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND IDEOLOGICAL BARRIERS
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
RACHEL CARSON
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.
CANCER CHARITIES
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)
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