“The so-called war on cancer is not going so well,” says Dr. David Kriebel, Co-Director, University of Massachusetts Lowell Center for Sustainable Production.
Dr. Kriebel recently led a seminar in Toronto as part of the ongoing Occupational and Environmental Health (OEH) series. He pointed out how the cancer establishment often cites lowering death rates as a sign of progress in the war on cancer. Kriebel, and many others, however point to the continued upward trend in cancer incidence as evidence the war rages on.
U.S. data was shared with seminar participants highlighting examples of specific cancers and age groups experiencing growing rates including the fact teen cancer has risen 30 per cent over the past 40 years.
Incidence rates are also rising here in Canada. According to the Canadian Cancer Society more than 190,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer this year up from 149,000 just 10 years ago.
Both occupational and environmental exposures remain a significant source for the growing trend in cancer incidence. Researchers believe toxic environmental exposures, including those at work, may be responsible for seven to 19 per cent of all cancers.
In Canada, occupational cancer is the leading cause of work-related deaths. Cancer has also surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death for all Canadians.
Hazards-based approach to prevention
“A risk-based approach for dealing with carcinogens is a dead end,” says Dr. Kriebel. “Hazard-based is the way to go. If chemicals cause harm, find a way to eliminate or reduce use and exposure.”
Many agree. In its World Cancer Report 2014
, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says the global cancer epidemic is growing at an alarming rate. “Despite exciting advances, this Report shows that we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem,” says Dr. Christopher Wild, Director of IARC and report co-editor. “More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally.”
Members of the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel offered a similar vision back in 2009. In their annual report entitled, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What Can We Do Now
, they wrote, “A precautionary prevention oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure.”
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “Substances that cause cancer should be replaced with safer alternatives. If it isn’t possible to get rid of the cancer-causing substance or find a safer option, then exposure to it should be reduced as much as possible.”
Prevention solutions at hand
Prevention solutions exist. Their potential to help promote safer, healthier workplaces, communities and ecosystems is tremendous. Though, with a few bright exceptions, the will to embrace and implement them remains limited.
Dr. Kriebel offered insight into some of these bright exceptions including green chemistry involving the creation, use and promotion of safer chemicals and products. “An important way for us to end the upward trend in cancer incidence is to increase the supply and use of safer products,” he explained.
He pointed to a wide range of resources and screening tools to support efforts to introduce these products and eliminate harmful toxins from the economy (see below). He also spoke about the impact legislation can have on toxics use reduction.
Legislation supports toxics use reduction
Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA
), passed in 1989, is considered model legislation with proven results
. In Massachusetts, large chemical users report and carry out toxics reduction planning. Fees paid by reporting companies support several agencies including the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) which offers resources, tools and support services aimed at helping workplaces and communities reduce the use of harmful chemicals. One such tool is TURI’s Environmental, Health and Safety Data Resources Guide
designed as a single internet access point to many chemical substitution tools.
TURI also trains and certifies planners who must be used by companies reporting under TURA.
Here in Ontario the Toxics Reduction Act
requires certain businesses to track and quantify the toxic substances they use and create. They must also develop specific toxics reduction plans and make summaries of their plans available to the public. Like Massachusetts’s legislation, implementation of the plans are not mandatory. However, Ontario lacks a dedicated support agency such as TURI along with TURI-trained planners.
Local by-laws and supporting resources can also help guide toxics use reduction. Toronto’s Environmental Reporting and Disclosure Bylaw (ChemTRAC) requires certain businesses, many of them small and medium sized, to report their manufacture, use and release of 25 priority chemical substances
that are of concern to public health. The Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition offers a Toronto Toxic Reduction Tool Kit
designed to help residents and workers understand and access this information and encourage them to press for waste and toxics reduction, pollution prevention and greening of local businesses.
For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) has long subscribed to the same hazard-based approach to carcinogens and other harmful exposures offered by Dr. Kriebel. This remains at the heart of all WHSC training and information resources. These training programs
help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards including toxins. Many of these same programs offer essential insight into the information and tools needed to eliminate or reduce harmful workplace and environmental exposures.
To learn more:
Want to learn more about the OEH seminar led by Dr. Kriebel entitled Science, Regulation and a Cancer-Free Economy?
Want to know about upcoming OEH seminars?
Want to know more about TURI?
General TURI information
TURI chemical fact sheets
TURI Environmental, Health and Safety Data Resources Guides
University of Massachusetts Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production