Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#572 - The Truth About Breast Cancer -- Part 2, 12-Nov-1997

Roughly five to ten percent of cancers are caused by inherited genetic
disorders, but the remaining 90 to 95 percent are caused by exposure to
carcinogens (cancer-causing agents such as x-rays or certain
chemicals). This is true of breast cancer,[1,pgs.237-241] and of all
other cancers as well.

Some carcinogens are natural, such as cosmic rays from outer space, and
cannot be avoided. But many carcinogens are synthetic (meaning 'created
by humans'), such as fiber glass, x-rays, some pesticides, etc. --and
exposure to them COULD be avoided. Thus, cancer is largely a
preventable disease. Almost no one disputes this.[1,pgs.55,265]

When women started asking about prevention of breast cancer in the
1980s, they examined the scientific research "establishment" and found
it dominated by men who had close ties to industries that produce
carcinogens. For example, as recently as the late 1980s, the board of
overseers of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was comprised
of bankers and industrialists. Before Leo Wade became the director of
the Sloan-Kettering Center, he had a long career as medical director at
Standard Oil of New Jersey,[1,pg.266] and he was a member of the
American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of
Manufacturers, and the Manufacturing Chemists Association. Under Wade's
leadership, Sloan-Kettering never weighed in on the side of prevention.

In 1990 --and for several years before that --the National Cancer
Institute's "National Cancer Advisory Panel" (an influential 3-member
group with direct access to the President --indeed, it is now called
the President's Cancer Panel) was headed by Armand Hammer who was also,
at the time, chairman of Occidental Petroleum, a major polluter and
manufacturer of carcinogenic chemicals. When Hammer announced a drive
to add a billion dollars to the NCI's budget, the goal was "to find a
cure for cancer in the next ten years" and none of the money was
earmarked for prevention.[1,pg.266]

As we saw last week, Breast Cancer Awareness Month was created in 1987
by a British chemical conglomerate --Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI)
--and it is now funded and exclusively controlled by an ICI spin-off,
Zeneca Pharmaceuticals.[2] Breast Cancer Awareness Month is focused
narrowly on early detection of breast cancer through mammography; it is
not about prevention. Zeneca plays a dual role in the cancer business.
On the one hand it earns $300 million each year from sales of the
carcinogenic herbicide acetochlor[1,pg.257] while at the same time
earning $470 million each year marketing the world's best-selling
cancer therapy drug, tamoxifen citrate,[1,pg.255] and it operates a
chain of 11 U.S. cancer treatment centers.[3] Clearly, cancer
prevention would conflict with Zeneca's business plan.

In the early 1990s, 180 cancer advocacy groups joined together into the
National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). Using grass-roots organizing
tactics pioneered by AIDS activists and by toxics activists, the NBCC
persuaded Congress to increase breast cancer funding by $300 million,
[1,pg.255] with an eye toward prevention.

The creation of the NBCC represented a real threat to the chemical
industry which has been discharging millions of tons of carcinogenic
chemicals into communities for years --all perfectly legal because the
industry's friends in Congress have adjusted the laws to make it so.

Grass-roots action to expose the truth about cancer --that CANCER IS A
POLITICAL DISEASE --was a real threat to the industry, especially
because the message was bubbling up from the grass-roots and being
amplified by cancer researchers like Dr. Devra Lee Davis, who was at
that time an adviser to the federal Department of Health and Human
Services.

If you look for a group of chemicals that is causing more than its fair
share of grief, you would probably pick organochlorines. Very few
organochlorines exist in nature, and then only in relatively small
amounts; the vast majority of organochlorines were created by humans
starting around the year 1900 but gearing up big-time after World War
II.

Today there are 15,000 different organochlorines but they all tend to
have three similar characteristics. First, they tend to persist in the
environment (because nature does not break them down readily), so once
created they stay around. Second, they are not very soluble in water
but they tend to be soluble in fat --so they tend to enter food chains
and bioaccumulate as they move upward toward the big predators, like
eagles, polar bears, and humans. And third they tend to be toxic and in
many instances carcinogenic. Recently, it has been shown that several
of them interfere with hormones in wildlife --and probably in humans --
causing many other problems besides cancer.

Partly in response to the formation of the National Breast Cancer
Coalition, the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) and its
subsidiary, the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC), hired Mongoven,
Biscoe and Duchin (MBD), a PR firm in Washington, D.C., to develop a
plan for countering the "prevention" message.

MBD makes its living by spying on churches, labor unions,
environmentalists, and professors and students, writing wildly
inaccurate reports about them, then selling the reports to gullible
corporate clients, such as CCC. In addition, MBD helps corporate
clients develop strategies to resist pressures for change. In its own
words, MBD "assists corporations in resolving public policy issues
being driven by activist organizations and other members of the public
interest community. We help clients anticipate and respond to movements
for change in public policy which would affect their interests
adversely.... Forces for change often include activist and public
interest groups, churches, unions and/or academia.... MBD is committed
to the concept that it is critical to know who the current and
potential participants are in the public policy process, to understand
their goals and modus operandi, and to understand their relative
importance. To this end, MBD maintains extensive files on organizations
and their leadership...." (See REHW #361.)

A 5-page cover memo to the Chlorine Chemistry Council dated September
7, 1994, and signed by Jack Mongoven, lists many specific steps that
CCC should take to defend chlorine and undercut the breast cancer
survivors: "It is obvious that the battleground for chlorine will be
women's issues--reproductive health and children--and organizations
with important constituencies of women opinion leaders should have
priority," Mongoven writes. (See REHW #495.)

MBD's August 1994 report to CCC listed a series of conferences for
breast cancer survivors scheduled by WEDO (Women's Environment &
Development Organization) in New York [phone: 212/973-0325]. The report
says, "Devra Lee Davis is expected to direct the Clinton
Administration's policy governing breast cancer and we expect her to
try to convert the breast cancer issue into a debate over the use of
chlorine. As a member of the administration, Davis has unlimited access
to the media while her position at the Health and Human Services (HHS)
[department] helps validate her 'junk science.' Davis is scheduled to
be a keynote speaker at each of the upcoming WEDO breast cancer
conferences."

In his cover memo, Jack Mongoven suggests that CCC deal with Dr. Davis,
the breast cancer survivors, and anti-chlorine sentiments as follows:

** Schedule through KPR [Ketchum Public Relations, in Washington, D.C.]
editorial board meetings in Dayton prior to Department of Health and
Human Services Devra Lee Davis['s] speech to a forum on breast cancer
sponsored by Greenpeace and WEDO to be held in Dayton....

** Enlist legitimate scientists in the Dayton area who would be willing
to ask pointed questions at the conference....

** Stimulate peer-reviewed articles for publication in the JAMA
[Journal of the American Medical Association] on the role of chlorine
chemistry in treating disease.....

** Convince through carefully crafted meetings of industry
representatives (in pharmaceuticals) with organizations devoted to
specific illnesses, e.g., arthritis, cystic fibrosis, etc., that the
cure for their specific disease may well come through chlorine
chemistry and ask them to pass resolutions endorsing chlorine chemistry
and communicate those resolutions to medical societies. [End of MBD
memo.]

MBD has some influential allies in the campaign to deflect attention
away from the fact that cancer is caused 90% to 95% by exposure to
carcinogens. For example, NEW YORK TIMES writer Gina Kolata ridicules
or ignores anyone who suggests that some portion of breast cancers
might be caused by exposure to carcinogenic agents in the environment.

Last month HBO aired a documentary film about breast cancer and the
environment, called RACHEL'S DAUGHTERS.[4] The film centers on a group
of breast cancer survivors who interview scientists who explain the
nature and causes of breast cancer. Kolata reviewed the film in the
TIMES October 1, 1997.

In her review, Kolata forgot to mention that any scientists or
physicians appear in the film. Indeed, she gives the strong impression
that the women in the film have no scientific basis for their concerns.
Kolata writes, "The women [in RACHEL'S DAUGHTERS] are far removed from
the universe of scientists and others who make distinctions between
hypothesis and evidence, who believe that speculation is not proof, and
that when evidence fails to support a hypothesis, the hypothesis should
be abandoned." She ridicules the women in RACHEL'S DAUGHTERS, thus:
"Are crops sprayed with pesticides? Well, then of course pesticides
caused breast cancer. Do we use electricity? Well, of course
electromagnetic fields caused breast cancer." In summing up, Kolata
dismisses the women's concerns as "paranoid thinking."

What Kolata neglected to mention is that the following scientists and
physicians (among others) appeared on-camera in the film, supporting
the women's concerns about the causes of breast cancer:

** Ruth Allen, Ph.D., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and program
director of the National Cancer Institute's Long Island Breast Cancer
Study Project;

** Julia Brody, Ph.D., director of the Silent Spring Institute in
Massachusetts and principal investigator of the Massachusetts
department of health study of breast cancer on Cape Cod;

** Devra Lee Davis, Ph.D., World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.,
formerly advisor on breast cancer to the federal Department of Health
and Human Services;

** John W. Gofman, Ph.D., M.D., professor emeritus of molecular and
cell biology, University of California at Berkeley;

** Stefanie S. Jeffrey, chief of breast surgery, Stanford University
School of Medicine;

** Donald C. Malins, Ph.D., D.Sc., Pacific Northwest Research
Foundation, Seattle, Washington, and member, National Academy of
Sciences;

** Marion Moses, M.D., Pesticide Education Center, San Francisco,
California;

** Susan Sieber-Fabro, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Division of Cancer
Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute;

** Shelia Hoar Zahm, Deputy Chief of the Occupational Epidemiology
Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology, National Cancer Institute.

Happily, if the TIMES should ever dismiss Gina Kolata for writing
biased, inaccurate reports, she wouldn't starve. She has demonstrated
all the talents needed to hold down a lucrative position with Mongoven,
Biscoe, and Duchin.

[Continued next week.]

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

=====

[1] Robert N. Proctor, CANCER WARS; HOW POLITICS SHAPES WHAT WE KNOW
AND DON'T KNOW ABOUT CANCER (NY: BasicBooks, 1995). This is a scholarly
history of the development of human knowledge about cancer, definitely
worth reading.

[2] Monte Paulsen, "The Profits of Misery; Breast Cancer and the
Environment: How the chemical industry profits from an epidemic it may
be causing," DETROIT METRO TIMES May 19-23, 1993, pgs. unknown.

[3] Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Maker of Cancer Drugs to Oversee
Prescriptions at 11 Cancer Clinics," NEW YORK TIMES April 15, 1997,
section A, pg. 1.

[4] RACHEL'S DAUGHTERS will be available for screening in your
community as of January 1, 1998; to arrange a screening, contact Light-
Saraf Films, 264 Arbor Street, San Francisco, CA 94131; telephone and
fax: (415) 469-0139.

Descriptor terms: cancer; carcinogens; sloan-kettering cancer center;
national cancer institute; nci; robert n. procter; cancer wars; armand
hammer; occidental petroleum; standard oil of new jersey; breast cancer
awarenesn month; imperial chemical industries; ici; zeneca
pharmaceuticals; tamoxifen; devra lee davis; national breast cancer
coalition; chlorine chemistry council; mongoven, biscoe and duchin;
mbd; ketchum public relations' kpr; new york times; gina kolata;
rachel's daughters; films; breast cancer; estrogens; hormones;