Edward Goldsmith on how Sir James’s death from cancer might have been prevented. This article was published in the Sunday Telegraph, 3 August 1997.
A fortnight ago my brother, Jimmy Goldsmith, died of cancer. His courage was absolutely indomitable. But how can his loss not make me angry? We will never know for sure the precise cause of Jimmy’s cancer – but I have my suspicions.
Cancer now afflicts one woman in three and one man in two. The main causes are exposure to carcinogenic chemicals in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, as well as radioactive emissions from nuclear installations. But the cancer establishment – that is to say the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society in the USA, and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the Chester Beatty Research Foundation in this country – will not admit it.
The reason is that the chemical and nuclear industries are too powerful, the former in particular funding most of the research. As a result, cancer is blamed on faulty genes, viruses, fatty foods and alcohol, all of which, if they are involved at all, are very minor factors; and, of course, smoking – a more important one, especially in the case of lung cancer, but nothing like as important as is made out.
As Samuel Epstein, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois, points out, 20 percent of lung cancers occur in non-smokers, and the cancer rate among them continues to increase. A growing percentage of lung cancer cases is of a type (adenocarcinoma) which is difficult to associate with smoking, while higher lung cancer rates are found in certain occupations where people are exposed to specific chemical pollutants. According to Epstein:
“The chemical industry quite clearly uses tobacco as a smokescreen to divert attention from the role of carcinogenic chemicals in inducing lung cancer, besides other cancers.”
The literature linking cancer to carcinogenic chemicals is voluminous. According to the World Health Organisation, solvents used in paint are carcinogenic, painters having a 40 percent higher chance of contracting lung cancer and a 20 percent higher chance of contracting stomach, bladder, larynx and other cancers, while their children are at an increased risk of leukaemia and brain tumours.
Diesel exhaust fumes have been linked by the California Air Resources Board with the growing lung cancer rate. The increasing incidence of brain tumours (up by a third in the industrialised world over the past 40 years and now accounting for 20-25 percent of all childhood cancer deaths) has been attributed, in a study at Queen’s University Belfast, with such environmental factors as pesticides, overhead power lines and dental X-rays.
People living within one kilometre of municipal waste incinerators are reported to be suffering significant increases in all cancers, including a 30 percent increase in liver cancer. Many modern pesticides are now classified by the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA as proven or suspected carcinogens. A study from the University of North Carolina found that children who played in gardens sprayed with pesticides were about four times more likely to contract certain types of cancer than those whose gardens were not sprayed. Children from homes that used insecticide strips were twice as much at risk of developing leukaemia, and three times as much if their mothers were exposed to them during the last three months of pregnancy.
Few people realise just to what extent we are being exposed daily to these poisons. Take a typical healthy lunch eaten by the average New Zealander, for instance. Alison White of the Pesticide Action Network takes this as being composed of a white bread roll filled with luncheon sausage, tomato, lettuce and butter, followed by an apple.
The ingredients were found to contain residues of the following pesticides, most of which are proven or suspected carcinogens (details will be published in a special issue of The Ecologist on cancer):
- Luncheon sausage: DDE, chlorpyrifos-methyl, fenitrothion, pirimiphos-methyl.
- Tomato: alpha-endosulfan, beta-endosulfan, endosulfan sulphate, chlorpyrifos, pirimi-phos-methyl, chlorothalonil, dichlo-fluanid, dithio-carbamates, iprodione, procymidone, vinclozolin, permethrin.
- Lettuce: alpaha-endosulafan, beta-endosulfan, endsul-fan-sulphate, chlorothalonil, dithio-carbamates, iprodione, procymidone, vinclozolin
- Butter: DDE.
- White bread roll: chlorpyrifos-methyl, diclorvos, fenitrothion, malathion, pirimiphos-methyl.
- Apple: chlorpyrifos, captan, iprodione, vinclozolin.
The cancer establishment and its experts will deny that these pesticides do any harm. They will insist that all of them have been carefully tested by their scientists. This, of course, is totally untrue. There are roughly 70,000 chemicals in commercial use and more than a 1,000 new ones are put on the market every year. Only a minute proportion – probably less than 5 percent – have been studied at all for their carcinogenic potential. Worse still, it is by no means certain that their possible carcinogenicity can even be established by scientific tests.
A recent study published in Science magazine shows that combinations of two or three common pesticides can have 160-1,600 times greater ability to disrupt hormones (one of the principle ways chemicals can cause cancer) than have the same pesticides used individually. Needless to say, current tests are exclusively conducted on pesticides taken in isolation from each other.
In the same way as our health is at present being ruthlessly subordinated to the interests of the chemical industry, so it was and still is being sacrificed in the interests of the nuclear industry and, in the case of the nuclear tests, to those of ‘natural security’.
The leukaemia rate near nuclear installations has shown a big rise just about everywhere. Thus around the Krummel power plant in Germany it is 85 times the average in that country. Recent studies have shown that it has risen dramatically around France’s nuclear retreatment plant at La Hague. And around Sellafield, the most polluting nuclear facility in the Western world, the rate is 10 times the national average.
Government scientists have consistently rejected any connection between radioactivity and leukaemia, even though the connection was firmly established as long as 70 years ago by Professor H. Muller (who earned the Nobel Prize for his important work on this subject).
How long will it be before the British public realises that cancer is largely preventable? The delay is because our health is being systematically subordinated to the sordid financial interests of the chemical and the nuclear industries – a fact that bent Government scientists are going to find increasingly difficult to hide from us for much longer.
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