07 November 2014

Dying Too Soon: Why Children Need the Precautionary Principle



Image courtesy cnet.com
The same day news spread that 29 year-old right-to-die advocate Brittany Maynard had ingested the barbiturates prescribed to her by her doctor and had made her choice to die with dignity a couple of days prior, another story hit the news. Nineteen year-old Lauren Hill, also a terminally-ill young woman, scored her first, and possibly only, basket of her life in her college basketball game. Apparently, Lauren has only weeks to live. Lauren was also diagnosed with an untreatable glioma, much like the one that lead to Brittany’s death. Lost amid the tragically sad human-interest angle of these two stories is the question paramount in my mind: why did these two healthy, vibrant young women at the beginning of their adult lives contract these deadly brain tumors and why is no one discussing this question?

Rather than suffer the excruciating pain of therapies (radiation and chemotherapy) that would do little to prolong her life but cost much in terms of horrendous side-effects, or rather than suffer the agonizing pains of deterioration from the disease, Brittany chose to die when it was right for her. Commendably, Brittany sought to increase awareness of terminally-ill patients’ right to choose their own path toward death. Similarly, Lauren wants to bring attention to brain tumors, for her and the numerous other young children suffering from them, and help to raise funds for research into treatments. These strong and caring young women surely serve as examples for others with their giving and selfless natures and they are certain to effect some much-needed change, but neither will change the fact that young people are being diagnosed with terminal brain tumors and little is being done to prevent them.

No one knows the precise etiology of brain cancers. Numerous environmental pollutants such as air pollution from automobiles, petrochemicals, pesticides, x-rays, and CT scans have been correlated with brain cancer incidences. Radiofrequency radiation, one of our newest and most prevalent pollutants, has also been provisionally linked to brain cancers. Radiofrequency energy is the non-ionizing radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum that emanates to and from our wireless electronic devices like computers, tablets, smartphones, cordless phones, and the “smart” meters that read our water and/or electric usage outside our homes. We are now completely bathed in this potentially harmful energy, which the World Health Organization classifies as a Class 2B carcinogen, even before we have gathered sufficient data as to its safety. But absence of evidence of harm is not the same as evidence of the absence of harm. Toxicological studies have demonstrated that radiofrequency radiation may damage DNA (among other cellular impairments) and lead to cancer (among other deleterious health effects). The epidemiological studies have been inconclusive; some say that there is no evidence of an increase in brain cancers; others show a link between brain tumors and heavy cell phone use. Moreover, we know that embryos, children, and teens at crucial stages in their development are even more vulnerable to the effects of environmental toxicants, like cell phone radiation, than are adults.

Now, think about the age of these two young women. They both belong to the Millennial generation. Both of their childhood and teenage years corresponded to the early-mid 1990s and early 2000s, when cell phones came into common use – especially held to one’s head and used as an oral communication device rather than for texting or internet. Given the lag time of cancer, it would not be a stretch to question whether their cancers could have been caused by cell phone usage.

I heard someone say the other day, when discussing Brittany Maynard, that it is likely the issue of the right-to-die may soon be cropping up more and more. When I learned of Brittany Maynard’s story, I thought of what myself and some of my colleagues studying environmental health had said when cell phone usage seemed to become ubiquitous: it is likely that the issue of brain tumors may soon be cropping up more and more.

It may be that cell phones had nothing to do with these devastating cases of brain cancer in these young women. It may also be that radiofrequency radiation is not nearly as potentially harmful as I suggest it could be. However, independent scientific research (not compromised by government or industrial stakeholders) continues to mount that the toxicological and potential health effects of radiofrequency radiation are not negligible. And anyone who studies science knows that scientific findings are always conservative, and that they tend to err on the side of minimization rather than exaggeration. Furthermore, anyone who studies science history knows that no damage has been done by taking precaution against scientifically-suggested potential harms, but much damage has been done by waiting for definitive proof of these harms, as the European Environment Agency has shown in its two reports called Late Lessons From Early Warnings (1 and 2). Definitive proof of the direct health effects of cell phones and radiofrequency radiation may never be established now, since few to no one is unexposed to these transmissions; therefore, we have no control groups for adequate analysis.

Nevertheless, might we use these young women’s heartbreaking stories to think more about the state of our health and our environments? Doctors have already warned that children should not be holding cell phones to their heads at young ages. Perhaps children should not be holding smartphones and tablets on their laps either. Perhaps young women should not be storing smartphones in their bras. Perhaps many areas in Europe are right to eliminate WIFI and reinstate wired internet connections. Perhaps we should keep wireless-transmitting meters off of the sides of our homes, near where children sleep. Isn’t the scientifically-established possible threat of these devices enough to make us do something for our children and their future? Any story of a young person suffering and dying before their life has really begun should be enough to make us scream to ourselves, “How could we have stopped this?!” Brittany Maynard and Lauren Hill should be reminders that we have not yet done enough, and we should be spending more time examining the myriad ways we may prevent such tragedies in the future. 


Copyright 2014 Kristine Mattis
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License



Kristine Mattis received her PhD from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an interdisciplinary environmental scholar with a background in Biology and Earth System Science, her research focuses on environmental risk information. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com
 

13 October 2014

Abolish Columbus Day; Celebrate Indigenous People's Day


Happy Indigenous People's Day!

As an Italian-American who is closely tied to my ancestry and cultural heritage, I find it appalling that many Italian-Americans chose to exalt this tyrannical, genocidal psychopath. Not much has changed in over 500 years if we still excuse or condone the actions of Columbus and continue to whitewash the numerous genocidal events that encompass the history of the U.S. I hope that we may continue to supplant this horrid day (not to mention the upcoming Thanksgiving) with holidays that reflect those who should be honored and holidays that reflect the truth.

For inspiration, here is a story from Seattle's decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day. It's LONG, LONG overdue:

Native Americans cheer city’s new Indigenous Peoples’ Day


01 October 2014

Low Pay is NEVER Okay


While $15/hr is barely a livable wage in any large city in the United States, it is a start. First, the recently-elected socialist city council member in Seattle, Kshama Sawant, helped enact legislation to raise the minimum wage in that city. Now, it seems that New York may follow suit. Granted, $15 is barely a minimum wage in NYC, let alone a livable wage, but let the fight begin. Perhaps we can move from $15/hr to the $21/hr that should be the minimum wage if it kept pace with overall growth of the U.S. economy since 1968. And by the time any new legislation is implemented, we will probably need at least a $25/hr minimum wage. Imagine that. 


We Need to Have a Comprehensive Conversation: It's Time to Talk Frankly About Cancer

Courtesy: Environmental Health News



In a September 2014 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Mary-Claire King – the woman who first discovered the so-called breast cancer gene BRCA1 – and her colleagues suggested that all women should undergo routine medical screening for this gene as well as BRCA2.  Of course, it seems reasonable that women should know if they carry these mutant allele forms of these genes, because the mutant genes confer a greater risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women who have the mutants than in women who do not.

There has been some discussion about Dr. King’s proposal in newspapers and on the radio, but the dialogue inevitably has two tremendous pieces of the cancer puzzle missing: cause and prevention. In fact, too much cancer information tends to be myopic, neglecting to mention essential elements of the global portrait of cancer etiology. Conventional wisdom about cancer tends to end up promulgating misinformation and misinterpretations, not sound science. Dr. King’s piece, as well the highly publicized bi-annual Stand Up to Cancer celebrity charity telethon, which raises money for cancer treatment, have done nothing to provide more clear information to the public that could help avert this all-too-common but potentially highly preventable scourge that has caused suffering upon and taken the lives of so many of our friends and family.

First and foremost, it is important to emphasize that cancer is NOT heritable. Actor Piece Brosnan proclaimed on the aforementioned telethon that cancer was a “wretched inherited disease.” It certainly is wretched, but is not inherited nor is it really a single disease.

Most inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, or Huntington’s disease are relatively rare, because on a population level, the processes of evolution and natural selection promote the disappearance of the genes that produce the disease, unless those genes also confer some benefit. Some inherited diseases are less rare because of their unique side-benefits. Sickle-cell anemia, for example, can confer a beneficial trait, because those who carry only one allele (one of the two in a gene pair that is inherited from mother and father) for sickle-cell do not have the harsh symptoms of the disease, but do instead have an increased resistance to malaria.

 In contrast, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutant genes do not cause cancer; they merely make it more difficult for your cells to repair damage done to your DNA. When your cells are exposed to a cancer-causing agent (i.e., a carcinogen) such as ionizing radiation, certain natural and synthetic compounds, certain viruses, and some endocrine disrupting chemicals, to name a few, they have mechanisms to repair the damage that agent may cause to your DNA. But if the damage is too severe or widespread, or if the cell lacks that mechanism for repair, as in the case of those who have the “breast-cancer genes,” your risk of contracting cancer is increased.  

It is basic scientific knowledge that cancer is not inheritable, but in light of the discovery of various genes that confer increased susceptibility to cancer, this fact is not always well understood by the population at large. Only 5-10% of people who contract any type of cancer have any sort of inherited genetic susceptibility. Therefore, the focus on inherited mutant alleles leaves out the majority 90-95% of people suffering from cancer. While it is true that the minority 5-10% who do have these mutant alleles have a much greater risk for disease than the rest of us, they do not have an inherent “predisposition” to cancer. Labeling these genes as “cancer genes” or even “genetic predispositions” is a terrible misnomer. These genes increase susceptibility to cancer when exposed to cancer causing agents.

In Dr. Kings article, she mentions that the risk of developing cancer when you have a genetic susceptibility is significantly higher for women born more recently than for women born long ago, and that this phenomenon has been confirmed in numerous studies. Indeed, women born today who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have two to three times as much risk for developing cancer as women of previous generations. This, again, should make it clear that these genes do not themselves cause cancer. But Dr. King explains this trend away by saying it is due to earlier ages of menarche and later ages of childbearing now. Once again, while these occurrences are correlated to increased risk for cancer, they are not in and of themselves causes of cancer. The cause related to early menarche and late childbearing probably is due to increased exposure to estrogens, which can indirectly influence a cascade of cancer-causing cellular events. More importantly, the reason for earlier and earlier ages of menarche is most likely to due our increased exposures to synthetic estrogens, not better nutrition, as Dr. King postulates. But passing off these two risk factors off as primary causes of the increase in breast cancers incidences is disingenuous.

More and more we are learning that many of the over 80,000 synthetic chemicals that humans have constructed over the course of the last century or so not only directly cause DNA mutations that lead to cancer, but mimic estrogen in our bodies, which indirectly lead to cancer. These chemicals are in food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the endless industrial products we produce and consume. They are quite often the products and processes of industry, and are not essential to maintain a comfortable life on this planet. In addition, the radiation we receive from sources such as diagnostic exams via x-ray, CT scan, and other radiologic medical procedures are being shown to contribute to excess cancers. For example, the UK Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment recently stated that one out of 2000 people will contract cancer due to abdominal CT scans – otherwise known as an iatrogenic cancer. This may seem a fairly small risk, unless you are that one person who has had an unnecessary CT scan and then is diagnosed with a preventable cancer because of it. Furthermore, scientists are finding more and more evidence that non-ionizing radiation, such as the radiofrequency radiation transmitted by cell phones, cell phone towers, wireless internet, and wireless water and electrical metering devices, is also a possible carcinogen. (The World Health organization places it in the same carcinogen class as the human papillomavirus.) The ubiquity of carcinogens and the ubiquity of our exposure to them, synergistically and cumulatively, is far more likely to be the cause of our plague of cancer diagnoses; it is far more likely that because women are more exposed to these carcinogens than in previous generations, the risk for women who have the BRCA mutant alleles is greater than in previous generations of women. Moreover, the risk for women who do not carry the BRCA mutant alleles and who are better able to repair the DNA in their cells, while relatively lower, is also increasing in more recent generations.

But for some reason, this plain and simple fact that exposure to carcinogens can and does lead to cancer is always absent in the medical discussion of cancer. Part of the reason may be that medical practitioners are rarely, if ever, versed in environmental health, so they are not even educated about environmental toxicology and the myriad diseases caused by environmental exposures. But part of the reason is likely political and economic. Real biological causes of cancer seem to be verboten because scientists and scholars who speak these truths are condemned, defamed, and discredited by the powerful industrial public relations machine, which has multi-billions of dollars worth of revenue to protect, as it maintains the businesses and industries that introduce so many of the carcinogenic products in our world.

Another important clarification in discussing cancer is that diagnosis does not equal prevention. In an Orwellian twist of double-speak, health care professionals have delineated different forms of “prevention” and have decided that the diagnosis and screening for cancer is what they deem “secondary prevention.” In truth, diagnosis is not prevention at all and should not be termed as such. But diagnosis is obviously necessary in a country where cancer afflicts more than 30% of the population. A problem when you combine diagnostic techniques that are in and of themselves carcinogenic, with people who have genetic susceptibilities to cancer, is that through the use of radiological diagnostics, the medical profession is inadvertently increasing the susceptibility of the already susceptible population even more. Consequently, when doctors propose that women with the BRCA1 and  BRCA2 mutant alleles start mammograms sooner in life and have more mammograms than other women, they are thus exposing these women, whose cells do not have the right machinery to combat carcinogens, to even more carcinogens than the average person (since mammograms use radiation). Thus, if we are indeed to screen all women for the mutant BRCA alleles, we should at least be using ultrasound and MRI (which are harmless diagnostic procedures, as far a science currently understands) when vigilantly monitoring them for cancer, rather than increasing the carcinogen exposure in a population who are already inherently less able to deal with it.

What does all this mean for women who have the mutant alleles for breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility? Too often, the onus for protecting oneself from cancer is put on the victims of the disease. Doctors discussing the call for universal BRCA gene screening say that women can then know about their susceptibility and then embark on better diet and exercise regimens to help prevent the disease. Certainly, a good, clean, healthful diet of whole foods and a semi-rigorous and regular exercise routine are always to be applauded, but the idea that these lifestyle measures prevent cancer actually flies in the face of scientific evidence that is continually accumulating. The New York Times published an article in its April 21, 2014 edition entitled, “An Apple a Day, and Other Myths” in which they illuminated that the consensus among the tens of thousands of scientists who study cancer and diet is that “when it comes to cancer there was little evidence that fruits and vegetables are protective or that fatty foods are bad.”

When discussing cancer, the lack of conversation about our ubiquitous exposures to carcinogens is highly negligent. A few causes seem to be safe for conversation. We readily speak of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the chemical benzopyrene, which is produced when food is burnt. Often, we do not even mention any sort of safe or acceptable levels of exposure to these organisms or chemicals; we assume that no level of exposure is necessary. But the tens of thousand of other chemicals, products, and pollutants that cause cancer, to which we are universally and often unnecessarily exposed, are rationalized as unproblematic at the levels with which we use them. Moreover, the acute scientific and medical focus on genetic susceptibilities in the minority of patients, instead of research into the etiology of cancer in the majority of patients, demonstrates that cause and prevention are not priorities. It also dooms us to failure in the fight against this disease. But that does not have to be. We can work to eliminate the underlying causes of cancer. Many of these processes and products are completely unnecessary in our lives and contribute to other global harms such as climate change. Until we can have a frank conversation about cancer that includes all of the primary elements contributing to the disease, additional screening for genetic susceptibility (for women who actually have access to health care – and many still do not) will be of little help and we will be even farther from combating this horrendous blight.



Courtesy: Environmental Health News




Copyright 2014 Kristine Mattis

Flood Wall Street





Corporate capitalism has plundered the earth, poisoned its beings, and created massive inequality. There is no more room for it on a sustainable planet.

30 November 2013

Damn consumerism

As a youth, I was certainly guilty of being interested in shopping and in searching for bargains. Even as a concerned person who cared about the welfare of others, I was also still a teenager, in somewhat typical fashion.

That was a long time ago. It is utterly unbelievable that adults do not see the moral folly of materialism, consumerism, and capitalism. We cannot possibly battle the ecological and sociological crises of our world until we all do.


02 October 2013

Solutions

Another great video by Annie Leonard. We should all be working on "game changing solutions."



23 July 2013

Don't F*&k With NY!

When I heard that this racist moron, Rick Perry, was trying to recuit New Yorkers to move their businesses to Texas, my first reaction was what is perfectly depicted in this short clip with Lewis Black:


19 June 2013

More on Angelina Jolie, defective BRCA genes, and causes of cancer

Image courtesy Cancer Research UK


Though poor diets, lack of exercise, and genetic susceptibilities amplify one's risk of cancer, these are just RISK FACTORS; they are not causes of the disease. Risk factors and causes are not the same, although they are commonly conflated by the public, by medical professionals, and by scientists who should know better. Furthermore, beware the opportunists selling cures; eating well and healthfully is vitally important to overall health, but there are no "superfoods" that will prevent cancer if you have been exposed to enough carcinogens.

Image courtesy Cancer Research UK


Carcinogenic exposures cause mutations to our DNA which can (and often do) lead to cancer. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, which are ubiquitous in our air, food, water, and consumer products can more indirectly lead to cancer. The exponential increase in these known carcinogenic agents and potential carcinogens in our environments corresponds with the increase in cancer rates, particularly in industrialized nations. (Note the increase in numerous cancers in China as their industrial development has exploded over the past several decades.) The fact that cancer can be detected more easily now and the fact that we have a larger aging population who will live longer and thus have a higher risk of contracting cancer does not explain why cancers such as breast, colorectal, thyroid, and testicular have increased in the 24-40 age group over the past decade and a half. Indeed, this age group is comprised of so-called "Generation X" - a generation of individuals with a much smaller population size than that of the Baby Boomers or Millennials. Thus, because of their small population size, Generation X should see less individual numbers of cancer diagnoses not more, if overall cancer rates were remaining stagnant. This increase in cancers among the middle-aged is an alarming trend and may portend a very grim future in terms of cancer rates among generations to come. Moreover, this trend absolutely cannot be explained statistically by genetic inheritance.

We can reduce and eliminate at least some of these exposures with greater regulation and banning of so many unnecessary chemicals and technologies. Ubiquitous exposure to carcinogens is not inevitable, nor does cancer need to be. To hear more, please listen to Feminist Magazine from June 18, 2013:

Feminist Magazine 6/18/13