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Cleaning Up Our Act: Why the Environment Matters for Your Health

Cleaning Up Our Act: Why the Environment Matters for Your Health

Midway through the fifth game of the World Series it seemed like everyone in the Houston Astrodome—players, coaches and fans (more than 69,000 people)—held up signs for Cancer Awareness. On each one was written the name of someone who had or has cancer; many signs read “Mom.”

Cancer ups and downs: These days, cancer survival rates are heading up; the death rate from cancer is down 25 percent from 1991 to 2014. More than 2.1 million folks have made it, who wouldn’t have before.

Diagnosis of cancer also has declined in some areas. Most of the drop is related to prostate cancer; over-diagnosis has declined rapidly. Lung cancer cases are also declining as fewer and fewer folks smoke. And recent reductions in diagnosis of colorectal cancers seem related to the increasing frequency of colonoscopies. Among folks over 50, colonoscopies have increased from 21 to 60 percent in the past 15 years.

However, for those under age 50, the rates of colorectal cancer are climbing. And that’s a canary in the mineshaft. Exposure to toxins in food, air and water, lifestyle choices (too little sleep, irregular eating habits), obesity and more are fueling a growing cancer risk.

That’s also reflected in the most vulnerable part of our population: children. While survival rates are way up, there’s been a 0.6 percent increase in the incidence of childhood cancers every year from 1975 through 2013, which adds up to a 22 percent jump. On top of that, over 220,000 cases of rare cancers, not including the 8,850 estimated cases of testicular cancer, are expected in 2017.

What’s going on? The cumulative effect of an endless stream of under- or unregulated chemicals in our air, food, water and household products may be taking a toll, even as we become ever-more adept at treating cancers. Pollution causes 16 percent of all deaths globally, 15 times more than all wars and other forms of violence.

What we don't need
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency declared that the pesticide chlorpyrifos posed an unacceptable risk to humans, especially children. Then four months later, the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, struck down a planned ban on the pesticide, despite massive data—developed by his own agency—showing when its residue is found in fruits, vegetables and drinking water, young people can incur diminished cognitive abilities and reduced IQ. Chlorpyrifos is the most-used insecticide in the US with 4 to 8 million pounds applied annually—often on tree nuts, soybeans, corn, wheat, apples and citrus.

Other examples: A study in NeuroToxicology found that prenatal exposure to the hormone disrupter bisphenol A (BPA), even at levels below those currently considered safe for humans, affects gene expression related to sexual differentiation and neurodevelopment in lab tests. Eek! Ditch those heat-transfer receipts, plastic bottles and packaging. And a study presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference found perchlorate (used in solid propellants, munitions, fireworks, airbag initiators, matches and signal flares, in some electroplating operations and some disinfectants and herbicides) is showing up in water and food, and leads to problems with human fetal brain development!

Economic cents and sense
The excuse for removing regulations that claims they are an economic disaster is just plain wrong. According the just-released The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, pollution control is economically smart: “In regions where air pollution control has been implemented, large-scale benefits have accrued. For example, in the USA, a $30 benefit is estimated to have resulted from each $1 invested in controlling air pollution. This benefit has been seen in health, productivity and life expectancy.”

That’s why it’s important to insist your representatives act on that knowledge and protect each of you, your children and their children’s children from pollution’s insidious effects. We have the knowledge and technology to clean up the environment. Now we just need the will.

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