FYI: The Growing Body of Evidence Connecting Cancers to the Modern Retail Economy
As yet, our line of Roses-branded merchandise remains a work-in-progress, while we continue to research materials and production processes, and sort through all the greenwashing which is out there. As Deborah Blum pointed out in her 1/22/2012 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, marketing-induced chemophobia (fear of chemicals) “can muddy our understanding of legitimate risks,” and it “promotes a way of thinking that makes us less safe rather than more so.” (Blum, “Chemical-Free Nonsense,” A23)
- the issues around “green” and ethical merchandising are relentlessly complicated (e.g., see Jonathan Latham’s article, “Way Beyond Greenwashing,” for the March/April 2012 issue of Dollars & Sense, wherein he describes the big conservation nonprofits’ new partnership strategy with industrial agriculture called “market transformation,” resulting in negotiated certification schemes for “Responsible” and “Sustainable” farmed commodity crops such as cotton “with low standards, no methods of enforcement, and enormous loopholes”; and see Rob Nikolewski’s article, “California Biodiesel Industry Anxious about Tax Credit Extension,” for the 24 November 2016 issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune, wherein he describes the debate over the federal biodiesel & biofuels tax credit, intended to stimulate growth of a renewables fuel industry in the U.S., promote energy independence, and cut-down on greenhouse gas emissions, which also gives “foreign companies a competitive edge over domestic producers,” including those foreign producers who “use palm oil in their biodiesel blends, which is often associated with clear-cutting of rain forests” — and the debate over such taxpayer investment in new “green” industries is revving up again now that Scott Pruitt has been nominated to direct the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] in a Donald Trump administration, as described by Nikolewski in his update, “California Biodiesel Companies Hunker Down,” for the 9 December 2016 issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune);
- the trade-offs that must be made are difficult to live with and even harder to choose (for example, the dilemma faced by green builders who must choose between investing in short-term individual actions — “making ‘nature’ into an urban lifestyle accessory” — or investing in long-term collective actions such as participative building — “collaborating with residents themselves to design low-cost, efficient housing solutions for the urban working class, especially in the wake of natural disasters” — as described by Wade Graham in his op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “Green Building or Greenwashing?” [6 March 2016 issue, p. A21], retitled “Op-Ed: Are We Greening our Cities, or Just Greenwashing Them?” for online posting);
- the risks and results of any particular course of action are still difficult to measure properly (as evidenced by growing dissatisfaction with the “Warm Fuzzy Feelings” and “benchmarks manufactured after the fact” which have traditionally guided social-impact investing, resulting in what musician and activist Bono described as “a lot of bad deals done by good people” when interviewed by Andrew Ross Sorkin for his column, “A New Fund Seeks Both Financial and Social Returns” [posted to the New York Times website, 19 December 2016]; indeed, calls for coming up with “a rigorous set of metrics with which to measure” social impact have now expanded beyond early quantitative analysts like Douglas W. Hubbard, author of How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business [2nd rev. edn., 2010; 3rd edn., 2014] and inventor of the Applied Information Economics [AIE] metric, to include the roster of celebrity investors and board members supporting, in the words of financial columnist Sorkin, “perhaps the most ambitious social impact fund” yet — the $2 billion fund known as Rise, developed by William E. McGlashan Jr., who “hopes to one day change the fee structure of funds like this so the investors are paid based on social impact, not necessarily just on financial performance”; despite the fund’s promise, Bono is wary of making big claims about Rise’s new model too early, counseling “We have to be a bit modest about where we are with Rise and be actually a bit tough on ourselves. I’d be more comfortable speaking about this in a year’s time or two year’s time as we go along.”);
- and, as the 17th-century proverb warns us, The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions.
Nonetheless, given the known industrial and environmental causes of cancers — see
“Congress, Obama find accord on regulation of household chemicals,” a PBS NewsHour report, first aired 22 June 2016.
SUMMARY: “President Obama reached a rare agreement with Congress on a new law to regulate toxic household chemicals. The legislation, signed Wednesday, will give the EPA the authority to vet and ban tens of thousands of substances potentially harmful to humans, including chemicals in detergents, cleaners and furniture. Gwen Ifill learns more from political director Lisa Desjardins.”
For an earlier discussion of bipartisan efforts to overhaul the nation’s chemical safety laws, see “Congress Is Overhauling an Outdated Law that Affects Nearly Every Product You Own,” by Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears (posted to The Washington Post website, 19 May 2016).
The “laws involved regulate thousands of chemicals in products as diverse as detergents, paint thinners and permanent-press clothing” and “will have a profound effect on Americans’ everyday lives.” Many of the chemicals affected “are interwoven into people’s experience with everyday products, including the ink on their morning newspaper and the fabric protector on their family’s sofa.”
“The improbable deal, which both sides have pursued since President Obama first term in office, gives the EPA the power to require companies to provide health and safety data for untested chemicals and to prevent substances from reaching the market if they have not been determined to be safe. Under current law, the agency must prove that a chemical poses a potential risk before it can demand data or require testing, and that substance can automatically enter the marketplace after 90 days. ¶ In the past four decades, the EPA has required testing for just 200 of thousands of chemicals, and it has issued regulations to control only five of them. More than 8,000 chemicals are produced in the United States at an annual rate of more than 25,000 pounds each, according to the agency. ¶ Under the bill, instead of going through a lengthy rulemaking process to trigger product testing, the EPA can order companies to test their new products. The measure also imposes user fees on industry to help expand the testing of chemicals. ¶ In return, chemical manufacturers will be subject to a single regulatory system, although states will still have the right to seek a federal waiver to impose their rules on a given chemical. Currently, California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have placed their own restrictions on some chemicals in the face of federal regulatory inaction.”
“Watchdog group tracks what really happens to your ‘recycled’ e-waste,” a PBS NewsHour report, first aired 9 May 2016.
“SUMMARY: The U.S. leads the world in e-waste, and while electronic recycling is increasingly popular, what happens after consumers drop off their computers, phones and other products is less clear. A watchdog group has found a lot of tossed junk, with its toxic components, winds up in poorer nations — and that very little recycling is going on. Special correspondents Ken Christensen and Katie Campbell of KCTS report.”
According to Seattle public media’s Katie Campbell, “With people buying new computers and other electronics more frequently than ever, electronic waste is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. On top of that, it contains toxic materials that can poison people and the environment.... One concern? Printer toner, a probable carcinogen.”
Even if e-waste recycling were the ideally “green” industry of our dreams, it was never intended to be the industrialized world’s go-to solution of choice, as symbolized in the 3 chasing arrows of the international recycling logo, where recycling is the third component of the “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” waste hierarchy. Today, groups like iFixit.org (tag line: “Repair is noble.”) place recycling last in their list of “4 Easy Ways to Save the World (and Your Electronics) on Earth Day”: (1) “Resist the urge to upgrade”; (2) “Fix your broken stuff”; (3) “Rehome your old electronics”; (4) “And finally, recycle.” As iFixit.org’s Julia Bluff explains: “What’s the big deal about electronics, you might ask? By weight, electronics require far more resources than any other product. Making a 0.07-ounce microchip uses 66 pounds of raw materials. Seventy-five percent of the energy a computer will consume in its lifetime is expended during production—before the computer is even turned on. That energy can’t be recouped during recycling. So it makes sense to keep electronics around for as long as possible.” (Bluff, unpaginated)
In honor of Earth Day 4/22/2016, the New York Times reported on the growing “movement of anti-consumerism, or the notion of cherishing what you have rather than incessantly buying new stuff” modeled by new enterprises such as the wiki-based site that teaches people how to fix almost anything, iFixit.com, which is characterized by Brian X. Chen in his New York Times article, “Choosing to Skip the Upgrade and Care for the Gadget You’ve Got” (posted to the New York Times website, 20 April 2016, and excerpted in the San Diego Union-Tribune for 8 May 2016, p. C4), as “a company that provides instruction manuals and components for repairing devices.”
As documented by Chen, the fight to change consumer behavior is on. “Many tech companies are trying to train people to constantly upgrade their gadgets — part ways with a device, the argument goes, as soon as something newer and faster comes along.” (B. X. Chen, unpaginated) In contrast, the iFixit model (“Repair is freedom. Repair creates jobs. Repair is sustainable.”) promises: “If you simply put some maintenance into electronics as you would a car, you can stay happy with your gadgets for years.” (B. X. Chen, unpaginated)
“Under the Dome: The climate film taking China by storm,” posted on 2 March 2015 to the BBC News “China Blog” by Celia Hatton, of BBC News, Beijing bureau.
SUMMARY: “Renowned investigative journalist Chai Ling has been widely praised for using her own money — more than 1 million RMB ($159,000: £103,422) — to fund the film, called Under the Dome. She first started the documentary when her infant daughter developed a benign tumour in the womb, which Ms Chai blames on air pollution.”
There is a link to Chai Ling’s documentary at Hatton’s blog.
I’m just now beginning to compile anecdotal information associating reproductive cancers with air pollution, but do not know of any real scientific evidence linking the one with the other.
For more anecdotal evidence of a possible connection, see the comments section of the PBS NewsHour report on U.S. military toxic burn pits in Iraq, “Veterans claim contractor in charge of burn pits is responsible for lung illnesses” (originally aired: 17 November 2014).
The NewsHour story focuses on lung disease, which has been linked to industrial-scale air pollution since at least the 17th century.
A possible connection with gynecologic cancers is raised separately in a comment responding to the 11/17/2014 NewsHour segment by a Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Reserve, who writes (see her comment towards the bottom of the page): “I was stationed in Balad, Iraq (aka Camp Anaconda), where they had one of the largest burn pits (it covered acres of land and burned over 200 tons a day). The smoke was constant, and soot settled to the ground only to be blown aloft again in the next dust storm. Amongst the refuse was depleted uranium from munitions and vehicles, dioxin (the same chemical in agent orange), plastic, paint and medical waste. The burn pit was right next to the hospital; the stench outside was like that of a building burning. ¶ I went to Iraq healthy; I returned with chronic rhinitis (constant nosebleeds) and allergies I had never previously experienced; and two years later I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer called clear cell carcinoma which was in my ovary. The VA denied my cancer was service connected and I am still in an appeal process....”
And for more anecdotal observation from the U.S. linking poor air quality to reproductive disease, see John M. Glionna, “Tiny Graves, Questions and a Town’s Ill Will: A Utah oil town turns on a local midwife who raised concern about an apparent spike in infant deaths,” Los Angeles Times, 11 January 2015, p. A10; retitled “Utah Oil Town Turns Against Midwife Who Asked about Infant Deaths” for online posting. The resulting challenge to “our livelihood” has bitterly divided the town: “some townsfolk suspect drug use and other unhealthy habits caused the infant deaths. ¶ ‘These oil fields guys drink a dozen Monster energy drinks a day. Many do drugs and exist solely on hot dogs,’ said Lucas Massey, 33, a natural gas operator. ‘With lifestyles like that, how can people even hope to have healthy babies?’ ¶ Seth Lyman, an air-quality researcher for Utah State University here, also doubts oil drilling is responsible, calling it ‘extremely unlikely that poor air quality in Vernal is the primary cause of an infant mortality epidemic.’ ¶ Yet air quality has been an issue in Vernal. A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study showed winter ozone layers here spiked well above Environmental Protection Agency safety levels, though no studies have linked ozone to the deaths.” (Glionna, A10)
“Special Investigation: How Cancer Came to the Acreage: Families in this south Florida town point to two companies as the source of the contamination that caused their children’s disease,” retitled “Brain Cancer Cases Shot Up in this Florida Town — Is a Defense Contractor to Blame?: For years, radioactive waste has seeped into swampland, canals — even drinking water. Now a few families are fighting to hold the polluters accountable” for online posting, by Sharon Lerner (The Nation, 3 November 2014, vol. 299, no. 18, pp. 12–24).
As Lerner’s investigative reporting reveals, epidemiological studies of designated cancer clusters “are very expensive, very difficult to resolve conclusively, make a lot of people angry, and make life difficult for politicians,” with the predictable outcome that public health agencies have little incentive to pursue them (S. Lerner, 18).
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a cancer cluster as a ‘greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time.’ Yet because elevated numbers of any disease can occur by chance, and because cancer is relatively rare — and it’s incredibly difficult to determine if rare events occur by chance — the vast majority of investigations into suspected clusters don’t confirm them.... So [residents of the Acreage, in South Florida] were shocked to hear the health officials explain that the community was definitely experiencing a cluster of pediatric brain tumors, as well as elevated rates of all cancers at all ages.” (S. Lerner, 14)
Even so, “Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, told reporters that her agency wasn’t planning to do any soil testing or other investigation into the causes of the cluster beyond interviewing families.... She felt that the high number of pediatric brain tumors in the Acreage was most likely due to chance rather than any environmental cause (she also noted that the rate was no longer elevated). ¶ Alonso was surely aware of how daunting a task it would be to pinpoint and prove the cause of the increase. In fact, by current standards, conclusively blaming a chemical culprit for a cancer cluster is so difficult that only three of 428 cluster investigations conducted in the United States since 1990 have established a link between pollution and illness.” (S. Lerner, 15)
“Definitively proving the cause of a cluster is so difficult because we live amid so many carcinogens. Unequivocally laying the blame on one often requires showing that no other was involved. ‘Experimental science tries to understand the relationship between x chemical and y outcome in a controlled setting,’ says Madeleine Scammell, an assistant professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health. ‘Whatever you find, there will be people who doubt the veracity of your findings because we don’t live in an experimental setting, and you can never control all of the factors that might have contributed to that disease occurrence.’” (S. Lerner, 18)
Similar debates about cancer clusters replay in the American southwest. Russell Contreras of the Associated Press has reported that “Residents Say 1st Atom Bomb Test Caused Cancer Cases” (posted to the AP website, 10 February 2017). New surveys of those living in southern New Mexico near the site of the world’s first atomic bomb test in 1945 report that generations of families, who “weren’t told about the dangers or compensated for their resulting health problems,” “have been plagued with cancer and other illnesses while the federal government ignored their plight.” But, “the health effects of the test have long been debated in New Mexico.” And Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium which partnered with the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership to conduct the surveys, acknowledged that the resulting “report wasn’t a scientific epidemiology study but an attempt to gather information from residents who have complained about various forms of cancers in families who had limited access to health insurance.” The goal is to get help for residents of the historic Hispanic village of Tularosa and four New Mexico counties who have suffered from cancer and economic hardship: “They want lawmakers to include New Mexico in a federal law that compensates residents near atomic tests.” But again, the difficulties of proving a cause-and-effect relation between regional cancers and the 1945 Trinity Test arise: “Chuck Wiggins, director of the New Mexico Tumor Registry, has said data shows cancer rates in Tularosa are around the same as other parts of the state. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death all over New Mexico, he said.” (R. Contreras, n. pag.)
For more on the role played by chance (versus heredity, lifestyle choices, or environmental influences) in the causation of cancer, see Jeffrey Brown’s interview with biomathematician Cristian Tomasetti of Johns Hopkins University for the PBS NewsHour, “Luck, Not Lifestyle, May Be To Blame for More Cancers than Previously Thought” (originally aired: 2 January 2015). Tomasetti discusses a recent study of 31 types of cancer (including leukemia, bone, testicular, ovarian and pancreatic cancers) which found “that luck, or random DNA mutation during cell division, is the primary factor behind more cancers than previously thought.”
For more on the statistical complexities of cancer clusters — let alone the wisdom of making policy decisions based on our limited understanding of such clusters — see our digital reissue of Dan Wartenberg’s article, “Interpreting Statistics,” written as an aid for journalists and scientists when Wartenberg was a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health (Wartenberg’s 1986 article, as originally published, is now available at the Science for the People magazine archive). More recently, the Los Angeles Times editorialized that the media need to acknowledge and “report on the limitations” in scientific research: “Science is essential to our daily functioning and to our ability to understand the universe, nature and ourselves. Its benefits are almost unfathomable, especially when scientists build a body of multiple studies that support and round each other out. That’s how people learned about the horrific effects of smoking, and were given warnings about climate change long before the glaciers began to disappear. But scientific studies have their limitations; problems arise when the results are mishandled by the scientific community or when politicians and advocacy groups seize on studies that back their own beliefs without waiting for more research.” As such, we all need “to think critically about research findings .... And politicians and regulators should avoid the temptation to turn each new bit of research into policy, without widespread scientific consensus that the matter at hand has been proven.” (Los Angeles Times editorial, “The Misuse of Research,” 11 October 2015, p. A25, retitled “Editorial: The Limitations and Perils of Scientific Studies” for online posting)
The Center for Science in the Public Interest long ago published an entertaining piece about the “zany, madcap world of Epidemiology,” including a mock board-game where “you, the ambitious scientist, attempt to unequivocally prove your theory of diet and disease.” Because CSPI’s online archive of Nutrition Action Healthletter back issues does not extend beyond 1998, I have provided a digital reissue of Bonnie Liebman’s “Non-Trivial Pursuits: Playing the Research Game” here.
Liebman wrote this piece after a study which found that “vitamins are not cancer preventers” was published in the July 1994 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study contradicted other scientific studies on the subject, leaving some health-conscious consumers feeling “like a ping-pong ball”: “I give up,” wrote one reader to the editor-in-chief of the Nutrition Action Healthletter; “I don’t know what to believe anymore with regard to vitamin and mineral supplements.” And over 20 years later (as I write this in March 2015), few of us feel any more certain about the subject. The “body of evidence” which is supposed to provide definitive answers is still accumulating. So, as you play Liebman’s game of Non-Trivial Pursuits, ask yourself about the evolving body of scientific evidence: where are researchers now in relation to where they were in 1994? And for all of us who need help figuring out the answer, CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter is a great source of information about what has transpired in the world of diet-and-cancer research during the intervening decades, as is Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.
And finally, I want to call attention to some recent scholarship by Louise Cummings, whose article, “The Use of ‘No Evidence’ Statements in Public Health,” was published in a 2015 issue (vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 32–64) of Informal Logic, an academic journal about reasoning & argumentation in theory and practice (a PDF of Cummings’ article can be downloaded, for free, by anyone who is interested, at that journal’s website).
Cummings here reassesses official uses of “written or spoken statement[s] of the form ‘There is no evidence that P’ where P stands for a proposition that typically describes a human health risk.” One example of such a “no evidence” statement studied by Cummings is the following: “... The expert group [convened in the U.K. to consider the safety of poly implant prostheses (PIP) breast implants] consider that, on the available data, there is no evidence that PIP implants are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer than other silicone gel implants.” (L. Cummings, 35)
In her article, Cummings looks at “The psychology of ‘no evidence’ statements in public health ... both from the point of view of the speaker (generally, a public health official) who uses these statements, and the hearer (typically, members of the public) who receives these statements. The results of an experimental study of public health reasoning in 879 subjects confirmed that lay people are generally adept at identifying the logical and epistemic conditions under which ‘no evidence’ statements in arguments from ignorance [i.e., when we lack knowledge, evidence or proof] are more and less rationally warranted in a public health context.” (L. Cummings, 60–1) She concludes with the interesting claim that “arguments from ignorance” can, and sometimes do, serve “as cognitive heuristics that have a facilitative function in public health reasoning.” (L. Cummings, 61)
“Loving the Puget Sound to Death: Four decades after the passage of the Clean Water Act, regulators haven’t kept up with the pollution pressure that growing populations put on America’s shorelines,” by Madeline Ostrander (The Nation, 23 February 2015, vol. 300, no. 8, pp. 16–21).
An excerpt from this important article: “Ringed by the white-capped Cascade and Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound looks pristine. But four decades after the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, regulators haven’t kept up with the pressures of growing populations near America’s shorelines, here or elsewhere in the country. The sound is choking with the waterborne residue of the urban existence of 4 million people—engine oil, traces of gasoline and paint, lawn fertilizer, chemical flame retardants from furniture, lead and copper from old roofs, and other kinds of grime wash into the water every time it rains—a problem collectively known as storm-water pollution. Near the canal, the city has been scrambling to reduce spills from a century-old sewer and storm-water system that frequently overruns during storms—fifty-eight spills in 2013 and cumulatively almost 15 million gallons of raw sewage. ¶ Storm-water pollution usually gets worse as a community grows. In nature, rain trickles and seeps slowly into soil; but in a city, it surges across pavement, gathering filth as it pours into storm drains. In some older cities, it sometimes mixes with sewage-treatment systems, where it can run over and slop out. In other cases, storm water gushes untreated from cities into water bodies. Such pollution is fouling water not just in Puget Sound but nationwide, on nearly every beach, bay, lake, river and marsh that is well occupied and urbanized—from San Francisco Bay and the Louisiana bayous to Chesapeake Bay on the mid-Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes. Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman calls storm-water pollution the ‘most important, least recognized environmental problem.’” (Ostrander, 17)
“Chemicals from the water also linger in the tissues of some fish, and the people who eat fish most often face risks from toxic pollution. Most species of salmon that live part time in the open ocean are considered safe for heavy consumption. But eat a local chinook salmon, which can spend most of its life cycle in the sound, or a crab, mussel, clam or any creature that spends enough of its days in Puget Sound, and you may be ingesting a bit of that toxic stew, a trace amount of contaminants. Feast on a lot of these fish and you could get a regular dose of chemicals that are tied to liver disease, cancer and neurological disorders. Tribal people may be especially at risk. So are the Latin American and Asian immigrants who frequently cast their lines into city waters and trap crabs in parts of Seattle where there are health advisories against eating shellfish. According to the Washington State Department of Health, American Indians and Alaska natives have higher rates of diseases like colorectal cancer—which is often linked to exposure to pollution—than the state’s white population. ‘Tribal people are put at an unreasonable risk by their consumption [of fish],’ says Larry Dunn, an expert on tribal health who works as an environmental manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, on the Olympic Peninsula. ‘People are ingesting these chemicals.’” (Ostrander, 17)
“Calif. Law Change Sparks Debate over Use of Flame Retardants in Furniture,” a PBS NewsHour report, first aired 1 January 2014.
“SUMMARY: Flame retardants are commonplace in most upholstered furniture to help prevent house fires. But studies have linked the chemicals to cancer and fertility problems, prompting California to change the state’s furniture flammability standards. Hari Sreenivasan reports on how the move could have a ripple effect across the country.”
Adverse health effects (including cancers) from the commercial use of flame retardants are of growing concern not only for consumers in general, but especially for parents of young children, and for fire-fighters. The NewsHour interviews Tony Stefani (“a survivor of a rare form of kidney cancer and president the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation”) who reports that “When we go into a building on fire, we’re faced with a real toxic mess. ¶ And these flame-retardant chemicals off-gas both furans and dioxin, which have been proven to cause cancer. We definitely feel that there is a link. We have had a lot of firefighters that have succumbed to brain cancer, colon cancer, forms of blood cancers like multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
“A Parent’s Dilemma: Do Flame Retardants in Home Goods Trade In One Danger for Another?,” a PBS NewsHour feature in their Science Wednesday series, posted to The Rundown: A Blog of News and Insight, by Cat Wise, on 1 January 2014.
“Epigenetics: It’s What Turns You On ... and Off,” by David Schardt, from the July/August 2013 print issue of CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter, vol. 40, no. 6, pp. 9–11.
Re. endocrine disrupters: “Chemicals like phthalates (which are used to soften plastic), DDT, and PCBs can disrupt normal activity in the body by mimicking or blocking estrogen or other hormones. Epigenetics may help explain how even trace amounts of those compounds can cause havoc years later. ¶ Take bisphenol A (BPA), which is used to make some hard plastic food containers and the linings of most food and beverage cans. ¶ ‘When we expose mice in the womb to levels of BPA comparable to what people are exposed to, we see sets of genes that become over-methylated and sets of genes that become under-methylated,’ explains Dana Dolinoy, assistant professor in environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. ¶ ‘We were able to reverse this effect of BPA by feeding the pregnant mothers a high-methyl donor diet with lots of folic acid or a diet with lots of soy and its phytoestrogen genistein,’ adds Dolinoy. ¶ So should women who could become pregnant load up on soy or get more than the recommended intake of folic acid, which is a B vitamin? ¶ No, cautions Dolinoy. ¶ ‘You don’t know whether the epigenetic changes from lots of soy or folic acid will be good or bad because it depends on where they occur,’ she says. ¶ ‘Hypermethylation of an oncogene can be great, but at a tumor-suppressing gene, it’s not. And you have no control over where the methyl groups from soy or folic acid are hitting.’” (Schardt, 11)
(For more on the promising new science of epigenetics, see the pointer for the entry dated July/August 2013 in the media links section of our FYI page entitled “Conversations About a Wiser Use of Our Health Care Dollars & Resources.”)
Williams, Florence. Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. (ISBN-10: 0393063186 and ISBN-13: 978-0393063189.)
NOTE: This marvellous book, written by a science journalist, is as fun to read as it is edifying.
Also, Williams was interviewed for Marketplace radio’s segment, The Big Book (original air date: 5/8/2012), with an audio podcast and HTML transcript of the interview, listener comments, and link to a PDF-formatted excerpt from Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (chapter 1) all available here.
Proctor, Robert N. Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don’t Know about Cancer. New York: Basic Books, 1995. (ISBN-10: 0465008593 and ISBN-13: 978-0465008599.)
Faguet, Guy B. The War on Cancer: An Anatomy of Failure, A Blueprint for the Future. 2005; rpt. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2008. (ISBN-10: 1402086202 and ISBN-13: 978-1402086205.)
Sulik, Gayle A. Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. (ISBN-10: 0199740453 and ISBN-13: 978-0199740451.)
Murray, Anne Firth. From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2008. (ISBN-10: 1567513905 and ISBN-13: 978-1567513905.)
Colborn, Theo, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. Our Stolen Future: How We Are Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival—A Scientific Detective Story. With a New Epilogue by the Authors. New York: Dutton, 1996; rpt. New York: Penguin Group, 1997. (ISBN-10: 0452274141 and ISBN-13: 978-0452274143.)
Baker, Nena. The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being. 2008; rpt. New York: North Point Press, 2009. (ISBN-10: 0865477469 and ISBN-13: 978-0865477469.)
“Toxic Teflon: Toxic Teflon chemical, C8, found in tap water in several states,” by Sharon Kelly (Z Magazine, June 2016, vol. 29, no. 6, pp. 30–32).
“First created in a lab in 1947, C8 has managed to spread extraordinarily far and wide. Built from one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry, the tie between carbon and fluorine atoms, the chemical that acts as a surfactant was, until recently, used not just in Teflon cookware, but in hundreds of other consumer products including fast food wrappers, waterproof clothing, electrical cables, and pizza boxes. ¶ As with many other PFCs, C8 is impervious to breaking down or biodegrading. It can also accumulate in the human body over time and has been linked to at least six serious health conditions, including kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, and thyroid diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the chemical can now be found in trace amounts in the blood of roughly 98 percent of Americans.” (Kelly, 30)
Malkan, Stacy. Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. Philadelphia, PA: New Society; Lancaster: Gazelle Drake Academic [distributor], 2007. (ISBN-10: 0865715742 and ISBN-13: 978-0865715745.)
There have been important developments in the beauty industry since Malkan’s book was published.
Entrepreneurs are creating new brands, such as Santa Monica-based Beautycounter (whose founder is also experimenting with an updated “social selling” business model), to address the “shortage of chic and stylish beauty lines that also [prioritize] human health” (Melissa Magsaysay, “A Fresh Formula,” Los Angeles Times, 12 May 2013, p. P3; retitled “A Skin-Care Line That Is Not Just Another Pretty Toxic Face” for online posting).
The Beautycounter brand is built around full disclosure, using their website to educate consumers about known carcinogens, endocrine blockers, and other ingredients considered harmful to reproductive health: “There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today. We know little about the safety of many of them, but even those that we know are harmful to health (like lead, formaldehyde and phthalates) are allowed into a wide range of consumer products. This is particularly true of cosmetics: There are over 10,000 chemicals used in skin care and beauty industry, and only about 10% of these ingredients have safety data. The Food and Drug Administration (the agency that regulates cosmetics) allows companies to use cancer-causing chemicals and reproductive toxins in the personal care products that we put on our bodies and on our kids every single day, day after day.”
Given their commitment to putting health & safety first, Beautycounter-brand product developers note that “Mascara is the one item that won’t be included in the cosmetics line. Coleman says they have not found a way to formulate the product so that it’s free of toxic ingredients.” (M. Magsaysay, “A Skin-Care Line That Is Not Just Another Pretty Toxic Face,” p. P3)
“Consumerism Stirs Age-Old Beauty Biases in Rural Bangladesh,” a PBS NewsHour report by Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro (part of his series “Agents for Change”), first aired 3 July 2014.
SUMMARY: “Most commercial products don’t reach rural communities. But now, about 7,000 women in these communities are selling products and a new consumer culture to the world’s poorest people. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the controversy surrounding commercial ideas of beauty in the conservative rural areas of Bangladesh.”
Fred de Sam Lazaro is one of my favorite reporters. Here he invesitagates how “While saleswomen go village to village or door to door, outreach workers trained by CARE, better known for family planning or immunization, now also promote disposable razors and feminine pads. ... one of the hottest sellers so far has been Fair & Lovely. That’s a skin whitening cream. It’s widely advertised across this region and very profitable for the Unilever corporation.”
Criticisms of the new CARE-endorsed entrepreneurship program have mostly centered on the “terrible impact” skin whitening has on the self-esteem of young Bangladeshi girls: “Professor Firdous Azim writes about women’s issues. She and others have protested the sale of skin lighteners, saying it reinforces age-old biases.” But physical health is also an issue when “people do all kinds of things to their skin to become fairer.”
Chappell, Courtney. “Reclaiming Choice, Broadening the Movement.” The Women’s Health Activist 31.3 (May/June 2006): 6, 7 and 10.
Consumer products like lipsticks and lip glosses contain potentially harmful levels of toxic metals including lead, cadmium, aluminum, manganese, and chromium. “Prolonged exposure to phthalates (chemicals used in many cosmetics and highly concentrated in nail polish) is a serious occupational hazard that has been linked to cancer, birth defects, and spontaneous abortions. Over 40 percent of U.S. nail technicians are APAs [Asian Pacific Americans]; in California, 80 percent of the industry workers are Vietnamese immigrant women.” (C. Chappell, 6–7)
“The incidence of cancer is steadily increasing among particular APA ethnic subpopulations. The rate of cervical cancer among Vietnamese American women is five times higher than White women’s, and is the highest rate among all racial and ethnic groups.” (C. Chappell, 6)
“Further, studies have found that the cultural stigmatization of disease (including cancer) and lack of culturally competent health care prevent many APA women from seeking preventive reproductive health care services. For instance, one survey found that Vietnamese American women reported lower rates of preventive cervical cancer care because they fear a positive diagnosis and/or have misconceptions about the Pap test. Another focus group with South Asian American women revealed that many were uncomfortable asking South Asian health providers for sexual or reproductive health guidance or services, because they feared the doctors would bring cultural biases to their practices or violate confidentiality.” (C. Chappell, 7 and 10)
“The Asian Pacific American (APA) population includes individuals whose heritage or origins derive from Asia or the Pacific Islands, a region stretching from Hawaii to India, and from China to Australia. The APA population is extremely diverse, and is comprised of more than 30 ethnic subpopulations that speak over 200 languages and dialects. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent over four percent of the total U.S. population, or nearly 12 million people — by 2050, that figure is expected to double to 8 percent of the population (a projected 33.4 million people). Four percent of women in the U.S. are Asian Pacific Americans (139 million women), of whom 50 percent are of reproductive age.” (C. Chappell, 6)
“Courtney Chappell is the Policy Director at NAPAWF, where she conducts legislative advocacy at the national level around sexual and reproductive justice.” “Inspired by women of color organizations that have long mobilized around reproductive justice, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) has developed a national action agenda on APA women’s sexual and reproductive health care issues. This action agenda outlines eight legislative priorities for national and grassroots advocacy, and offers recommendations for policymakers, advocates, allied organizations, and community leaders.”
Sherman, Zoe. “Manicures, Pedicures, and Commodity Fetishism.” Dollars & Sense 320 (September/October 2015): 25–29.
A series of articles in the New York Times which ran in May 2015 — see especially Part 1, “The Price of Nice Nails” (published 5/7/2015) and Part 2, “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers” (published 5/8/2015) — revealed the dangers for service workers in U.S. nail salons.
As summarized by economist Zoe Sherman, “The materials used in nail care are toxic. The level of exposure experienced by customers is small enough that most will not suffer obvious health consequences. Even a regular customer may only be in the salon for 30 to 60 minutes at a stretch every few weeks. The workers are in the salon ten or twelve hours at a stretch, six or seven days a week, potentially for years on end. Common health consequences include respiratory disease, constant headaches, and reproductive problems. Many miscarry, and even those children of manicurists who are born full term seem to suffer developmental delays with higher frequency than the general population. (Limited data availability makes it impossible to calculate the increased risk for any of these health outcomes with great precision, but there are enough data to strongly suggest that manicurists suffer these harms at higher rates than the general population.) In addition to the toxin exposure, close contact with dozens of customers a day exposes manicurists to every contagious bacterium, virus, and fungus customers carry with them. Extended exposure to some of the chemicals in nail products causes a distinctive skin discoloration; manicurists with enough years in the industry say they can spot one another on the street.” (Z. Sherman, 26)
In response to Sarah Maslin Nir’s 2-part exposé in the New York Times, “Governor Cuomo called for consumer action, asking customers to spend conscientiously. If you see abuses, he urged, ‘walk out the door, go down the block, patronize another business.... Nobody can do it faster than the consumer can do it,’ he said. ‘Nobody can do it faster than the marketplace can do it.’ But ethical, informed consumerism can only take us so far. Information is difficult and time consuming to get. As New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir wrote, ‘much of how salons operate and how workers are treated is kept deliberately opaque to the outside world.’ What information an individual consumer can get is hard to interpret, and whatever ethical judgments we can make are uncertain. Even when we turn to supposedly independent certifiers of a business’s labor and environmental records, we can be misled.... ¶ There are a few notable success stories for consumer action, but they involved collective consumer actions .... Individual consumers cannot do as much. From patriots in the late 18th-century colonies boycotting English textiles in favor of homespun, to abolitionists in the mid-19th century boycotting slave-produced sugar, to conscientious 20thcentury grocery shoppers boycotting grapes in support of agricultural workers, consumer action has more often brought attention to a cause and contributed to mobilizing other forms of action (up to and including war) than it has directly applied market discipline to achieve just ends. The marketplace cannot do it as fast as Cuomo claims and probably can’t do it at all. An unorganized smattering of nail salon customers finding a more responsible business to patronize or choosing to go without will not be enough.” (Z. Sherman, 28–9)
Sherman concludes: “Nor is a return to a mythical past of personalized face-to-face economic interdependence a solution. People have a long track record of exploiting and abusing others at close range, especially when there are differences of race, gender, or other markers of social status that can be called on as justification. There is no mystifying market intermediation between the slaveowner and the products of the slave’s labor. ¶ Instead, as the New York Times editorial board noted, the best thing we can do is to empower workers to act collectively in defense of their own rights....” (Z. Sherman, 29)
“Supreme Court Rejects Appeal over Fish Pedicure Ban,” Associated Press story posted 20 April 2015 to the PBS NewsHour’s blog, The Rundown.
It is not just humans who are exposed to (and threatened by) cosmetic-industry chemicals.
As MaryFinelli comments: “The fish in the photo are Chinese chin chin fish. Fish exploited for this cruel practice are starved in order to get them to eat dead human flesh. They are exposed to nail polish and other harmful chemicals, and generally mistreated. Additionally, chin chin fish have teeth and can draw blood. ¶ Fish are sentient animals, as science has shown. They feel fear and pain. They should be treated like the sensitive beings they are, not used as commodities for private profit and pleasure. Fish pedicures are a cruel and disgusting practice.”
“The Pollutants in Your Face Wash,” a Marketplace public radio spot by Dan Weissmann, first aired 12 February 2014.
Weissmann reports here on the microbeads “in personal care products — like facial scrubs and even some toothpastes .... When they go down the drain, they end up in our lakes and rivers, by the millions. They’re too small to be filtered out by water-treatment systems.... ‘It’s a significant problem,’ says Lemuel Srolovic, who heads the office’s Environmental Protection Bureau. ‘They kind of act like tiny sponges to which toxic chemicals — that may be in low concentrations in the water — really concentrate on these beads.’ ¶ If fish eat the beads, those toxins could end up in the human food chain.”
the “Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry” initiative to reduce our use of industrial carcinogens, as described in a 23 March 2011 Marketplace interview by one of its founders, Paul Anastas, chief scientist and head of R&D for the U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency
“The New (Business) Left,” retitled “Meet the New Left: Small-Business Owners” for online posting, by William Greider (The Nation, 8 April 2013, vol. 296, no. 14, pp. 23–26).
Greider’s article documents the “industrial reinvention” being pushed by a growing contingent of responsible small businesses in the U.S.
“Last summer, another bioplastics company, Purac, announced a new biodegradable product that can replace styrene, the ubiquitous plastic used in appliances, luggage, telephone casings, sporting helmets, auto parts and electronics. Styrene is everywhere in our consumer society. It is also a cancer-causing agent, as experts have known for decades, but the EPA has failed to classify it as such. The chemical companies, joined by other industrial sectors, have repeatedly blocked federal action with relentless lobbying, spurious scientific objections, lawsuits and back-room fixes in Congress. The best that government has achieved so far has been to say that styrene is ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.’
“LaTourelle [i.e., Ally LaTourelle, an environmental lawyer and vice president of BioAmber] and the ASBC [American Sustainable Business Council] are wildly outnumbered, but they have plunged into the thickets of Washington politics to speak for the innovators. She testified at a congressional hearing last year because word was being spread among House members that regulating styrene and other toxic chemicals would be a job killer. ‘We wanted government to know there is an industry out there of nontoxic substitutes that can get to scale very quickly and provide the marketplace with alternatives,’ LaTourelle says.
“The thirty-year failure to designate chemicals like styrene, formaldehyde and chromium in drinking water as carcinogens is one of the great scandals of modern governance. It hasn’t stirred the indignation it warrants because it’s difficult for the press and public to follow regulatory actions. Meaningful events are spread over years, not weeks or months, and the crucial discussions often occur behind closed doors at law firms. Meanwhile, some 70 million Americans are still drinking water laced with chromium — the scandal Erin Brockovich exposed twenty years ago.” (Greider, 26)
Moore, Charles, and Cassandra Phillips. Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans. New York: Avery, 2011. (ISBN-10: 1583334246 and ISBN-13: 978-1583334249.)
Also, a brief interview with Moore was published in the U-T San Diego (“Discovery of Vast Ocean Dump Spurs Mission,” 10/21/2011, pp. B1 and B3) and is available here, retitled “Plastic Vortex Crusader Tells Story of Discovery” for online posting.
“Sunscreen Killing Coral and Reefs around Globe: Study finds oxybenzone in small amounts causing breakdown in three ways,” by Darryl Fears of The Washington Post (as published in the San Diego Union-Tribune for 25 October 2015, p. A25).
Here it is products created & used by humans to protect against cancer which are polluting the oceans and contributing to the “third global coral bleaching event”: “The sunscreen that snorkelers, beachgoers and children romping in the waves lather on for protection is killing coral and reefs around the globe. And a new study finds that a single drop in a small area is all it takes for the chemicals in the lotion to mount an attack.” (Fears, A25)
“Yet beach crowds aren’t the only people who add to the demise of the coral reefs found just off shore. Athletes who slather sunscreen on before a run, mothers who coat their children before outdoor play and people trying to catch some rays in the park all come home and wash it off. ¶ Cities such as Ocean City, Md., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have built sewer outfalls that jettison tainted wastewater away from public beaches, sending personal care products with a cocktail of chemicals into the ocean. On top of that, sewer overflows during heavy rains spew millions of tons of waste mixed with stormwater into rivers and streams. Like sunscreen lotions, products like birth-control pills contain chemicals that are endocrine disruptors and alter the way organisms grow. Those are among the main suspects in an investigation into why male fish such as bass are developing female organs.” (Fears, A25)
Cosmic ironies abound. From times of antiquity, the beautiful, arborescent red coral species found in the Red Sea and Mediterranean was prized, like a precious stone, for its ornamental and medicinal uses. Harvested when “thick, smooth, and shining, and of a beautiful red, not cover’d with any tartareous Matter,” red coral served as an astringent medicine, and was commonly used to treat various gynecologic disorders, including reproductive cancers: “The Virtues attributed to Coral and its Preparations, are that it is Cardiac, and therefore of use in Diarrhaeas, too large Fluxes of the Menstrua, and Floodings; of service in the Fluor Albus, and to prevent Miscarriages; beside its use in common as a Testaceous Pouder in Childrens Diseases, &c.” (Ephraim Chambers, Cyclopaedia, or, an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, 2 vols., 1st edn., 1728, 1.326)
It has been estimated that half of cancer-fighting drugs today are natural products, or derived from natural products like coral (see David J. Newman and Gordon M. Cragg, “Natural Products as Sources of New Drugs over the Last 25 Years,” Journal of Natural Products, 70.3 [March 2007]: 461–77). Newman and Cragg (of the Natural Products Branch, Developmental Therapeutics Program, Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, National Cancer Institute-Frederick) — who first published on this subject in 1997 — have argued both that “the continuing and overwhelming contribution of natural products to the expansion of the chemotherapeutic armamentarium is clearly evident,” and that “much of Nature’s ‘treasure trove of small molecules’ remains to be explored, particularly from the marine and microbial environments.” (D. J. Newman and G. M. Cragg, J. Nat. Prod., 2007, 70.3: 475)
What a tragedy if we wipe out part or all of this inherited treasure trove of marine ethnobotanicals before we’ve even had a chance to explore such a critical bioresource.
(The sunscreen products that I use — Sunscreen Face Sticks from Vertra Elemental Resistance, “the Official Suncare provider for the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association,” and Sephora’s Boscia B.B. Cream Light Broad Spectrum SPF 27 — all have titanium dioxide, not oxybenzone, as the active ingredient [and the Boscia face cream product adds 0.98% zinc oxide to 11.25% titanium dioxide for a mix of active ingredients]. So there are alternatives on the market, although I’m not sure if their use lets me off the hook, or not! ;-)
(6/23/2016 UPDATE: “Colorescience Broadens Reach with Sephora.com: Carlsbad company wants to expand, educate children on sun protection,” by Hang Nguyen [San Diego Union-Tribune, 30 May 2016, pp. C1–C2].
SUMMARY: The Carlsbad cosmetics brand, Colorescience, recently launched on Sephora.com, where you can now purchase its bestseller product: Sunforgettable Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF 50, “a self-dispensing mineral-powder sunscreen brush that debuted in 2004.... The brush was awarded the InStyle Magazine Best Beauty Buy in 2016 and 2015. Also, it won the NewBeauty Beauty Choice award this year. ¶ ‘It’s unique, dermatologist tested, immediate on-the-go non-greasy protection with no chemical sunscreen ingredients,’ said Colorescience CEO and president Mary Fisher.” (H. Nguyen, C1)
The product claims to provide coverage through 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, with its active ingredients: 23.9% titanium dioxide and 24.1% zinc oxide. Because I’ve just begun using the powder, I haven’t yet tested it thoroughly and can’t verify the package claims as to coverage, especially for swimming.
Nguyen of the Union-Tribune interviewed CEO Fisher and VP Julie Garza about Colorescience’s future expansion plans and its educational efforts, including: “Why did Colorescience debut its educational Sun-stoppable program, which targets elementary school-age kids, in 2014?” [H. Nguyen, C2])
UPDATE: “Remote Reefs Thriving: Scripps scientists are encouraged that coral reefs can survive climate change if managed properly,” retitled “Remote Reefs Thrive Despite Climate Change: Scripps report emboldens advocates of coral reef preservation” for online posting, by Joshua Emerson Smith (San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 March 2016, pp. A1 and A16).
SUMMARY: “With many parts of the globe in the grip of a nearly two-year coral reef bleaching event — fueled in part by El Niño-driven ocean warming — scientists and marine conservation advocates have feared many reefs could suffer irreparable damage and fade from existence in coming decades. ¶ A new report from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography provides reason for optimism by highlighting the potential for preservation efforts. In a massive project spanning 56 islands, researchers documented 450 coral reef locations from Hawaii to American Samoa, with stops in the remote Line and Phoenix islands as well as the Mariana Archipelago. ¶ The results — published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B — show that coral reefs surrounding remote islands were dramatically healthier than those in populated areas that were subject to a variety of human impacts. ¶ ‘There are still coral reefs on this planet that are incredibly healthy and probably look the way they did 1,000 years ago,’ said Jennifer Smith, lead author of the study and a professor at Scripps’ Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.” (J. E. Smith, A1 and A16)
How fitting that Jennifer Smith’s important new research relating to climate change and the health of Pacific Ocean coral reefs has been published in the Royal Society’s journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B. What I believe to be the first documentary evidence attributing climate change in the Americas to capitalist-oriented human activity was also published by that society in a 1667 issue of the oldest continuous scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.
In his “Observations Made by a Curious and Learned Person, Sailing from England, to the Caribe-Islands,” the polymath physician Henry Stubbe (1632–1676) reported to The Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge that the deforestation resulting from rapid colonial development of Barbados and Jamaica was having a negative influence on annual precipitation rates: “... there being certain Trees which attract the Rain, though Observations have not been made of the kinds; so as that if you destroy the woods, you abate or destroy the Rains. So Barbadoes hath not now half the Rains, it had, when more wooded. In Jamaica likewise at Guanaboa they have diminisht the Rains as they extended their Plantations.” (H. Stubbe, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, July–Sept. 1667, 2.27: 497)
The radical and irascible Stubbe would soon after turn on the Royal Society, becoming one of its most vociferous critics, in part because he was “peeved at the underhanded treatment that (he believed) greeted the observations on Jamaica which he had sent the society.” As suggested in the culture wars that followed, “Not only did Stubbe believe that the protagonists’ claims regarding the utility of science were vastly exaggerated, but he was convinced that their inflammatory rhetoric seriously threatened the humanist culture of the universities, the erudite foundations upon which protestantism rested, as well as the medical profession.... [M]embers of the society quickly responded, eliciting further rejoinders from Stubbe, who, in the meantime, had inadvertently become implicated in a controversy between the College of Physicians and the London apothecaries, and was attacked first by the physician Christopher Merrett and then the iatrochemist George Thompson.” (Mordechai Feingold, “Stubbe [Stubbes, Stubbs], Henry (1632–1676), author and physician,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., Jan. 2008, n. pag.)
Another notable adversary in the “increasingly abusive” science wars initiated by the “extream rash and imprudent” Henry Stubbe was the chemical physician Mary Trye (fl. 1662–75). Mary Trye opposed the Galenical approach to medicine, taking on Stubbe and the male medical establishment — which she accused of arrogance, laziness, and an over-reliance on surgical instruments (lancet, probe, knife) and the practice of phlebotomy, to the exclusion of pharmaceutical cures which preserved, rather than removed, “the blood and vital Spirits in the body” — in her “Vindication” of the new iatrochemistry, entitled Medicatrix, or, The Woman-Physician (London, 1675).
for some of the accumulating evidence — it makes no sense to fund innovative cancer education projects with profits from the sale of merchandise which unduly harms us and/or our environment in the making. Even the ubiquitous T-shirt is suspect. See, for example,
Wells, Troth. T-Shirt: One Small Item, One Giant Impact. Oxford, UK: New Internationalist, 2007. (ISBN-10: 1904456782 and ISBN-13: 978-1904456780.)
by activist Troth Wells, who suggests that we refashion the $60 billion a year T-shirt industry with “ethical T-shirts” ... which is much easier said than done.
“The Clothes Make the Movement: After the Rana Plaza Disaster, Ethical Fashion Has New Appeal,” retitled “Can Fashion Clean Up Its Act? In the wake of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza disaster, consumers are showing new interest in brands that do right by their workers” for online posting, by Elizabeth Cline (The Nation, 5/12 August 2013, vol. 297, nos. 5 and 6, pp. 20–22).
Cline points out that “The ethical fashion movement is often said to be about fifteen years behind the local and organic food movement, but the comparisons aren’t entirely accurate. While the food supply is still made up of many varied and smaller-scale entities, fashion is startlingly consolidated, and reforming it will entail getting a handful of very large corporations to change their ways. ¶ Many food products are necessarily grown relatively close to the point of sale to assure freshness. As of 2011, no more than 15 percent of the food consumed in the United States was imported. The fashion industry, on the other hand, is mostly globalized, with supply chains spread across the world. Just from a logistical standpoint, making fashion more transparent and ethical is going to be a more complex undertaking.” (Cline, 22)
“For fashion to truly stop wrecking the planet and start supporting better work environments, the pace of production on new products will have to be slowed significantly. While consumers can’t stop stores from producing too much clothing, they can buy fewer things — ideally things they love or need. Reusing, recycling and sharing clothes — in which the avoidance of buying new is implicit — is more popular than it has been in decades. Adherents include thrift store shoppers and users of collective consumerism websites like Yerdle, which allows members to exchange underused goods such as clothing (think of that dress with the wacky print on it that you bought and never wore). The website’s slogan is ‘Why shop when you can share?’” (Cline, 22)
The marine biologist, Rachel Carson (1907–1964), was one of the first to popularize research linking reproductive cancers, chemical pesticides, and environmental pollution. After multiple revisions, this is what Carson published in 1962 on the subject of uterine cancer and its environmental connection:
The road to cancer may also be an indirect one. A substance that is not a carcinogen in the ordinary sense may disturb the normal functioning of some part of the body in such a way that malignancy results. Important examples are the cancers, especially of the reproductive system, that appear to be linked with disturbances of the balance of sex hormones; these disturbances, in turn, may in some cases be the result of something that affects the ability of the liver to preserve a proper level of these hormones. The chlorinated hydrocarbons are precisely the kind of agent that can bring about this kind of indirect carcinogenesis, because all of them are toxic in some degree to the liver.
The sex hormones are, of course, normally present in the body and perform a necessary growth-stimulating function in relation to the various organs of reproduction. But the body has a built-in protection against excessive accumulations, for the liver acts to keep a proper balance between male and female hormones (both are produced in the bodies of both sexes, although in different amounts) and to prevent an excess accumulation of either. It cannot do so, however, if it has been damaged by disease or chemicals, or if the supply of the B-complex vitamins has been reduced. Under these conditions the estrogens build up to abnormally high levels.
What are the effects? In animals, at least, there is abundant evidence from experiments. In one such, an investigator at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research found that rabbits with livers damaged by disease show a very high incidence of uterine tumors, thought to have developed because the liver was no longer able to inactivate the estrogens in the blood, so that they “subsequently rose to a carcinogenic level.” Extensive experiments on mice, rats, guinea pigs, and monkeys show that prolonged administration of estrogens (not necessarily at high levels) has caused changes in the tissues of the reproductive organs, “varying from benign overgrowths to definite malignancy.” Tumors of the kidneys have been induced in hamsters by administering estrogens.
Although medical opinion is divided on the question, much evidence exists to support the view that similar effects may occur in human tissues. Investigators at the Royal Victora Hospital at McGill University found two thirds of 150 cases of uterine cancer studied by them gave evidence of abnormally high estrogen levels. In 90 per cent of a later series of 20 cases there was similar high estrogen activity.
It is possible to have liver damage sufficient to interfere with estrogen elimination without detection of the damage by any tests now available to the medical profession. This can easily be caused by the chlorinated hydrocarbons, which, as we have seen, set up changes in liver cells at very low levels of intake. They also cause loss of the B vitamins. This, too, is extremely important, for other chains of evidence show the protective role of these vitamins against cancer. The late C. P. Rhoads, onetime director of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, found that test animals exposed to a very potent chemical carcinogen developed no cancer if they had been fed yeast, a rich source of the natural B vitamins. A deficiency of these vitamins has been found to accompany mouth cancer and perhaps cancer of other sites in the digestive tract. This has been observed not only in the United States but in the far northern parts of Sweden and Finland, where the diet is ordinarily deficient in vitamins. Groups prone to primary liver cancer, as for example the Bantu tribes of Africa, are typically subject to malnutrition. Cancer of the male breast is also prevalent in parts of Africa, associated with liver disease and malnutrition. In postwar Greece enlargement of the male breast was a common accompaniment of periods of starvation.
In brief, the argument for the indirect role of pesticides in cancer is based on their proven ability to damage the liver and to reduce the supply of B vitamins, thus leading to an increase in the “endogenous” estrogens, or those produced by the body itself. Added to these are the wide variety of synthetic estrogens to which we are increasingly exposed — those in cosmetics, drugs, foods, and occupational exposures. The combined effect is a matter that warrants the most serious concern.
(Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. Fortieth Anniversary Edition, 235–7; Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002; ISBN-10: 0618249060 and ISBN-13: 978-0618249060)
Fifty years on, we have yet to definitively resolve most of the cause-and-effect issues Carson raised in Silent Spring. The connection of reproductive cancers (especially uterine) with modern, industrial lifestyles and consumption patterns is proven, but not yet well understood, with the result that any “cures” for this are still a matter of speculation.
Silent Spring closed with Carson challenging us to shift course and take the other road:
We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one “less traveled by” — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth. The choice, after all, is ours to make. If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our “right to know,” and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us.
(Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. Fortieth Anniversary Edition, 277–8)
Despite the either-or posing of the two-roads metaphor, Carson goes on to argue that “a truly extraordinary variety of alternatives” are available, especially when we apply our knowledge and “creative inspirations” to those situations for which we are responsible.
I’m happy to report that there is no shortage of “creative inspirations” within the Roses collective, but I must also report that we do not yet know enough about the cancer-retail economy link to feel confident taking what I like to call a calculated risk relating to it. Identifying real alternatives to the “deceptively easy” way we do things now has proven much more time-consuming than I had hoped ... and unassigned research hours are in short supply around here!
So please be patient as we work on developing more sustainable “best practices” for merchandising original artworks.
At the moment, I’m intrigued by the design trend known as “upcycling,” as explained in the new publication from authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability, Designing for Abundance (New York: North Point Press, 2013; ISBN 9780865477483 and 0865477485).
But, as always, when entrepreneurs innovate and get creative, we make plenty of mistakes:
But many companies [developing “repurposed goods” by recycling worn-out fabrics and left-over scraps] are using an incomplete definition of upcycling, said William McDonough, a designer, architect and coauthor of the books “Cradle to Cradle” and “The Upcycle.”
Often, he said, new products made from used clothing actually cause more toxic substances to be dumped into the environment. Even though there’s less raw fabric being produced, dyes used to freshen worn scraps can seep into water supplies. Patching a torn garment for resale often involves metal zippers or buttons that can’t be recycled down the line.
A shirt made from pieces of unidentifiable material shipped in from multiple locations isn’t necessarily more sustainable than a similar garment constructed from locally sourced organic cotton that could someday be broken down into high-end rag paper, he said.
“What happens to these molecules when we’re done with them?” McDonough said. “How do we design a textile that, once we tire of it, can power our technology or go back to biology and be put back to human use without poisoning our biosphere?”
Creating products capable of going full circle is an ephemeral and difficult task....
(Tiffany Hsu, “Not-So-Fast Fashion: Advocates of Collective Consumerism Want You to Reuse, Share and Buy Less,” Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2913, p. B8.
Retitled “A New Consuming Philosophy: Reuse, Remake, Refrain” for online posting.
To view reader comments, click/tap here.)
One company experimenting with upcycling is MarketPlace Handwork of India, where the fabric scraps (known as chindis) which are generated when clothing is made are “Reimagined, Renewed and Repurposed” — stitched together, and overdyed, to make new products. The process is explained at the MarketPlace website page, “Upcycling with Chindis.”
More clever ideas for “upcycled” apparel and accessories have been reported on in San Diego’s Union-Tribune:
“Favorite Old T-Shirts Find New Life as Skirts: Keepsake Shirts from Concerts and Races Provide Material for Design Statements,” by Jennifer Forker of the Associated Press (U-T San Diego, 24 August 2013, p. E5).
“Vista Mom Turning Old Fire Gear into Fashion: Turnout coats, pants become purses, bags,” by reporter Pam Kragen (San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 October 2015, p. B1), retitled “Vista Designer Turns Fire Gear into Fashion: Firefighter’s Wife Recycles Turnouts into Cutting-Edge Handbags, Duffels” for online posting.
Since the Roses collective is not a rock band, our tees probably wouldn’t make it into a T-shirt skirt. But it does give me something more to think about.
It is with regret — and some surprise — that I announce the end of this website’s participation in the Powell’s Books, Inc. Partner Program.
As of 29 August 2012, we will no longer earn a percentage on books purchased through our links to Powells.com (or Amazon.com). Hence, I have decided to drop all such links. There’s no point in pushing one particular out-of-state retailer over another when local, independent bookstores everywhere need our support. Click/tap here to learn more.
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