March 1999 Volume 6, Number 2
The link between cancer-
causing pollution and cancer has been hotly disputed
by - surprise -
The Sierra Club's map, released in December,
plots the 20
"dirtiest" counties in the
Where do you live?
One in three of us will get some form of cancer. One reason? In 1996 alone, state and federal agencies allowed industrial polluters to dump more than 175 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals into our air and water. That does not even take into account sources like vehicles, pesticides, incinerators and small polluters such as dry cleaners.
In Rochester, N.Y., for example, Eastman Kodak Co. dumped 2.6 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals in 1996 alone. A 1995 New York State Department study linked Kodak's enormous dichloromethane pollution to the higher incidences of pancreatic cancer among women in the Rochester area.
In December, 1998, to draw attention to the problem, the Sierra Club released a report ("Cancer, Chemicals and You") the bulk of which is reproduced here. The map shows the most threatened counties in America; one glance reveals that Monroe County, N.Y., is the fourth-most threatened county in the country, and that Kodak is the largest single emitter of carcinogens in the United States.
The Club called on industries to drastically reduce the amounts of cancer-causing chemicals they dump, to pay for independent cancer health studies, to compensate sick workers and cancer victims and to relocate victims from contaminated neighborhoods. We are asking the government to require polluters to conduct studies to determine the danger near major pollution sites.
Noreen Warnock, who used to live near the British Petroleum plant in Lima, Ohio, makes a stirring case for such studies: "The person across the street died of brain cancer, the man in the home to the left of ours died of lung cancer, the woman around the corner also died from brain cancer, another woman a few houses down died from breast cancer, a woman across the boulevard was fighting breast cancer, two men in our neighborhood died of Lou Gehrig's disease, and my own child is suffering from asthma. If BP believes they are not the cause of these illnesses, why don't they help the community undertake a full-blown study to settle this question once and for all?"
Midwest representative Brett Hulsey, Midwest associate representative Eric Uram, and volunteer Elana Wilson spent a little time at the movies - or rather, outside the movies in the middle of a Wisconsin blizzard - to distribute the map.
They gave copies to people going to see "A Civil Action," a movie that dramatizes the fight of several families to prove that contaminated water supplies in their community were responsible for the deaths of their children from leukemia. The families struggle for justice in a drawn-out court battle against polluters W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods.
"The most common response was 'Yikes!'" said Hulsey. "Patrons took one look at the map and they were sold. It's scaring people. Now we need to get them to take
action to clean up cancer pollution."
Response to the map so far has been encouraging and building. "The message is getting out there, but it's a slow burn story," said Hulsey.
"The map is particularly compelling in Texas and Louisiana," said Larry Freilich, Southeast regional representative. "It's a rallying point for volunteers; it gives them the tools to take on industry."
Later in February, the Club's Board of Directors and local community activists will distribute the map at a press conference outside the Shell Norco plant in Louisiana. The event will draw attention to the pollution Shell is inflicting on the state. Ascension Parish, La., where Shell has another plant, is the 14th worst county in the country for
In Texas, Deb Gallington, Houston Environmental Public Education Campaign organizer, reported that the Houston release of the report made it to the three networks - even though it was competing for air time with the recent bombing of Iraq. "The thing is," she said, "people are shocked that industry is legally allowed to release this stuff."
For more information: Call the Sierra Club's Washington, D.C. Office, (202) 547-1141; Midwest Office, (608) 257-4994; or Texas/Arkansas Office, (512) 472-9094. Or visit http://www.sierraclub.org/toxics/cancer .
Go on to the next article, "Human Rights Activists Target Corporations, Governments"
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