August 20, 2017

Cancer: the real causes

Edward Goldsmith shows how the barely-restrained pollution of the chemical and nuclear industries are to blame for the growth of cancer. Unpublished article, written 9 September 1997.

See also Cancer: are the experts lying?


I once spent the night at the flat of a friend of mine in Paris. He worked for a somewhat shady business efficiency firm and was preparing a report for a company that made aperitifs to explain why it was losing so much money. My friend was finding this very difficult and getting very little down on paper. I asked him what was wrong. “Well “, he said,

“the reason the company is going bust is that the Managing Director is absolutely hopeless, and his two sons and son-in-law who run the company with him are even more so. But I can’t say that, can I, or I’ll never be paid, so I have to invent other reasons for explaining the company’s plight, and its not easy I can tell you.”

Ten years later I met a young scientist who was working for the Lawther Committtee – appointed by the British Government to study and report on the causes of lead poisoning in children in this country. The members of the Committee knew that the main factor involved was lead in petrol – but it was not politically expedient to admit this, for the motor industry was very powerful and wouldn’t like it. So the committee, like my friend in Paris, desperately sought other possible factors to incriminate: drinking water that had been conveyed in lead pipes for instance, and chewing lead-based paint, etc. the report was not very convincing but it served its political purpose.

Much the same has been happening for years on the cancer front. Cancer is now a disease that afflicts one woman out of three and one man out of two. And everybody knows in their hearts what the main causes are:

  • exposure to carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, and
  • ionising radiation – from medical X-rays, nuclear tests and radioactive emissions from nuclear installations.

However, the ‘Cancer Establishment’ – that is the National Cancer Institute, the America Cancer Society in the USA, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the Chester Bealy Research foundation in the UK – will not admit it. The chemical industry and the nuclear industry are too powerful, the former in particular, funds most of the research. So the cancer epidemic is blamed on such things as faulty genes, viruses, eating fatty foods and drinking 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 it is made out to be.

Samuel Epstein, Professor Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois, points out 20 percent of lung cancers occur in non-smokers: a growing percentage of lung cancers are of a type (adenocarcinoma) that are difficult to associate with smoking, while higher cancer rates are found in certain occupational exposures and excess lung cancer rates occur in areas where major polluting industries are located. For Epstein,

“the chemical industry quite clearly uses tobacco as a smokescreen to divert attention from the role of carcinogenic chemicals in inducing lung cancer and other cancers.”

Literature linking cancer to exposure to carcinogenic chemicals is voluminous. According to WHO, solvents used in paints are known carcinogens, painters having a 40 percent higher chance of contracting stomach, bladder, larynx and other cancers, while their children are at increased risk of contracting leukaemia and brain tumours.

Additives in food such as benzene-related dyes to make orange juice orange, or Peas Green, are known to cause Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph glands. People working in agriculture or the food processing industry are twice as likely to suffer from cancer of the bone marrow than the general population.

Diesel exhaust fumes have been linked by the California Resources Board with the growing lung cancer rate. The growing incidence of brain tumours, which have increased by a third in the industrialised world over the past 40 years, and now account for 20 – 25 percent of all childhood cancers, has been attributed in a study at Queen’s University of Belfast with such environmental factors as pesticides, overhead power lines and dental X-rays.

People living within one kilometre of municipal waste incinerators are reportedly suffering significant increases in all cancers including a 37 percent increase in liver cancers.

A large number of modern (synthetic organic) pesticides are now regarded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA in the US and other such organisations 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 children whose gardens had not been sprayed. Children from homes that used hanging insecticide strips were twice as much at risk of developing leukaemia and three times as much if their mothers were exposed to these poisons on a day to day basis.

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:

  • Luncheon sausage: DDE, chlorpyrifosmethyl, fenitrothion, pirimiphosmethyl;
  • Tomato: alpha-endosulfan, beta-endosulfan, endosulfan sulphate, chlorpyrifos, primiphosmethyl, chlorothalonil, dichlofluanid, dithiocarbamates, iprodione, procymidone, vinclozolin, permethrin;
  • Lettuce: alpha-endosulafan, beta-endosulfan, endsulfan-sulphate, chlorothalonil, dithiocarbamates,
    Iprodione, procymidone, vinclozolin; 
  • Butter: DDE;
  • White bread-roll; Chlorpyrifos-methyl, diclorvos, fenitrothion, malathion, priimiphos-methyl;
  • Apple: chlorpyrifos, catan, iprodione, vinclozolin.

The cancer establishment will undoubtedly contest this, but what they will not tell you is that of the 70,000 chemicals in commercial use and of the more than 1,000 new ones that are commercialised every year, only a minute proportion – possibly less than 5 percent – have been studied at all for their carcinogenic potential. Worse still, it is by no means certain that scientific tests can actually establish their carcinogenic potential.

A recent study published in Science – The official journal of American science – shows that combinations of two or three common pesticides can have a 160 to a 1,600 times greater ability to disrupt hormones – one of the principal ways in which chemicals can cause cancer – than have the pesticides used individually. How about the combination of four, five or for that matter 70,000 chemicals? The study does not say because no-one will ever know the answer.

Dr Vyvyan Howard of the University of Liverpool points out that just to study the synergic effects of the commonest 1,000 toxic chemicals combinations of three would require 166 million different experiments – an inconceivable undertaking.

The link between cancer and in particular leukaemia and exposure to ionising radiation is even more striking and is ever more hotly denied by government scientists and the nuclear industry that they seek to protect.

The atmospheric nuclear tests carried out in the 1950s in particular have been estimated to have killed more than 2 million people. Many were carried out in Nevada and people living downwind in Utah were particularly affected.

Terry Tempest William’s book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family & Places is a veritable horror story. She writes:

“I belong to a clan of one-breasted women. My mother, grandmothers and 6 aunts have all had mastectomies. Seven are dead. The two who survive have just completed rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. I have had my own problem: two biopsies for breast cancer and a small tumour between my ribs diagnosed as a ‘borderline malignancy'; this is my family history. Most statistics tell us that breast cancer is genetic, hereditary, with rising percentages attached to fatty diets, childlessness, or becoming pregnant after thirty. What they don’t say is that living in Utah may be the greatest hazard of all.”

In the same way, as our health is at present being totally subordinated to the interests of the chemical industry, so it was, and still is, being sacrificed to the interests of the nuclear industry or, in the case of nuclear tests, to that of ‘national security’.

As the Atomic Energy Commission said at the time “Gentlemen, we must not let anything interfere with this series of tests; nothing”.

Today, the evidence for a powerful link between cancer and medical x-rays is very powerful. Professor John Goffman in his book Preventing Breast Cancer attributes 75 percent of all breast cancers to ionising radiation, mainly medical X-rays. Others like Professor Ross Hume Hall of McMaster University in Canada see exposure to chemicals as the main cause. He goes so far as to describe womens’ breasts today as “toxic waste dumps”.

What is certain, is that the chemical of the Chernobyl nuclear accident which spewed out nuclear waste over a vast area has led to a dramatic increase in the cancer rate in the areas affected. Among children in the neighbouring Republic of Belarus, for instance, the rate of thyroid cancer has increased by 100 times. According to Professor Yablokov, President Yeltsin’s ‘Chief Environmental Adviser’, genetic anomalies have increased by 40 percent and all cancers by 70 percent in the areas affected. It deplores the way that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other such international agencies refuse to accept these embarrassing estimates.

It is also certain that the leukaemia rate in the neighbourhood of nuclear installations has risen dramatically. Around the Krummel power plant in Germany it is 80 times the national average. Recent studies have shown that it has risen dramatically around La Hague, France’s Nuclear Treatment plant. We know that this is so around the UK’s nuclear installations, in particular around Sellafield, the most polluting nuclear facility in the western world.

Government scientists have consistently rejected any connection between the radioactivity and cancer – even though the connection was firmly established as much as 70 years ago by Professor H. Muller, who was given the Nobel Prize for his important work on this subject.

Sir Douglas Black’s ‘independent’ advisory committee on the subject refused to accept it. The nuclear industry continues to insist that the higher leukaemia rate around their installations is caused by non-specified virus introduced into the area by the mixing of population – in particular by the introduction of workers brought in to work on the installations – a more pathetic attempt to mask the real causes of the problem being hard to imagine.

How long will it take before the British public realises that cancer is largely preventable and that if more and more of us are succumbing to this dread disease it 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.

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