2008 Annual Public Lecture
Avis Antel and Chris Kupka
On April 4th, BCAM held its 4th annual Lanie Melamed Memorial Lecture. This year, our guest speaker was Dr. Julia Brody, principal investigator of the ongoing Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study (launched in 1994) and Executive Director of the Silent Spring Institute, a nationally recognized leader in research on breast cancer and the environment. Their ongoing study is investigating exposures to endocrine disruptors and mammary carcinogens from air and water pollutants, and from common products such as pesticides, detergents, plastics, and cosmetics; it is the first study to measure estrogenic activity in ground and drinking water.
Dr. Brody pointed out that the incidence of breast cancer is significantly higher in industrialized countries, women moving from low-risk to high-risk countries are at higher risk and that this risk is even higher for their daughters and granddaughters. The increase from one generation to another is too rapid to be ascribed to genetics alone; therefore other influences are important. These we can do something about.
Although there are some well-known breast cancer risks — family history, and reproductive history — that one can’t change, we have sufficient evidence of risk factors that can be modified — exposure to ionizing radiation, alcohol use, physical inactivity, weight gain after menopause and pharmaceutical hormones.
And then there are the environmental chemicals! Dr. Brody brought a short video of “a day in a life,” depicting the chemicals that we use throughout a day — soap and shampoo in a morning shower, make-up, cleaning products, plastic storage containers and water bottles — all products that place us in contact with phthalates, benzene, parabens, bisphenol-A, ethylene oxide, etc. There is compelling human evidence demonstrating a link between organochlorines (PCBs and DDT), PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), organic solvents, dioxin and breast cancer. Endocrine disruptors can be found in hormone therapy, pesticides, laundry detergents, plastics, and cosmetics.
And those are just the ones we know about — most chemicals have never been tested!
Here in Canada, we are already ahead of most the U.S. because we have more product labeling, because the Canadian Cancer Society has declared itself in support of prevention, and because we have been leaders in the breast cancer consensus statement of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Quebec was also a pioneer in pesticide control legislation.
What more can we do to protect ourselves and to effect a change in our environment? As a group and individually we can lobby for the right to know what is in the products we use and the danger posed by these ingredients, for safer alternatives to toxic chemicals already in use, and for more research into primary prevention.
Individually, we can protect ourselves by using stainless steel water bottles rather than plastic, avoiding PVC vinyl, cleaning with basics such as vinegar, baking soda, soap and water (rather than cleaning chemicals), changing to green dry cleaners from those still using perc (perchloroethylene) and opting for fuel efficiency. We can choose organic food — studies have shown that there are lower pesticide levels in the urine of consumers of organic food. We can also limit our ingestion of phthalates, parabens, and triclosan in our personal care products by reading labels and purchasing those items that meet the EU standard. And we should avoid perfluorinated chemicals and flame retardants which are found on non-stick pans, stain-resistant clothing, in foam furniture and in most electronic equipment.
To learn more about the Silent Spring Institute and the research Julia Brody and her group is doing, you can search their website at http://www.silentspring.org