EarthTalk: I know that some of us are genetically
predisposed to get cancer, but what are some ways we can
avoid known environmental triggers for it?
—B. Northrup, Westport, MA
and poor nutrition together account for two-thirds
of U.S. cancer deaths each year, but the President’s
Cancer Panel reported in 2010 that environmental
toxins play a significant and under-recognized role
in many cancers, causing “grievous harm”
to untold numbers of Americans.
remains the scourge of the American health care system,
given that four out of every 10 of us will be diagnosed
with one form or another during out lifetime. Some of us
are genetically predisposed toward certain types of cancers,
but there is much we can do to avoid exposure to carcinogens
in our environment.
to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit working
to protect public health and the environment, a key first
step in warding off cancer is lifestyle change—“stopping
smoking, reducing drinking, losing weight, exercising and
eating right.” The American Cancer Society reports
that smoking and poor nutrition each account for about one-third
of the 575,000 U.S. cancer deaths each year.
smoking and obesity are obvious and other cancer triggers
aren’t so easily pinpointed. In 2010 the President’s
Cancer Panel reported that environmental toxins play a significant
and under-recognized role in many cancers, causing “grievous
harm” to untold numbers of Americans. And EWG reports
that U.S. children are born “pre-polluted” with
up to 200 carcinogenic substances already in their bloodstreams.
this shocking fact, it may seem futile to try to reduce
our bodies’ chemical burden, but it could be a matter
of life and death. EWG lists several ways anyone can cut
their cancer risk. First up is to filter our tap water,
which can include arsenic, chromium and harmful chemicals.
Simple carbon filters or pitchers can reduce contaminants,
while more costly reverse osmosis filters can filter out
arsenic or chromium.
foods we choose also play a role in whether or not we get
cancer. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is healthy,
but not if they are laden with pesticides. Going organic
when possible is the best way to reduce pesticide exposure.
And when organic foods aren’t available, stick with
produce least likely to contain pesticides (check out EWG’s
“Clean 15” list of conventional crops containing
little if any pesticide residue). EWG also suggests cutting
down on high-fat meats and dairy products: “Long-lasting
cancer-causing pollutants like dioxins and PCBs accumulate
in the food chain and concentrate in animal fat.”
stain- and grease-proofing chemicals (Teflon, Scotchgard,
etc.) is another way to cut cancer risks. “To avoid
them,” says EWG, “skip greasy packaged foods
and say no to optional stain treatments in the home.”
And steer clear of BPA, a synthetic estrogen found in some
plastic water bottles, canned infant formula and canned
foods. “To avoid it, eat fewer canned foods, breast
feed your baby or use powdered formula, and choose water
bottles free of BPA,” reports EWG. Personal care products
and cosmetics can also contain carcinogens. EWG’s
“Skin Deep” cosmetics database flags particularly
worrisome products and green-lights others that are healthy.
cancer prevention tip is to seal wooden outdoor decks and
playsets—those made before 2005 likely contain lumber
“pressure-treated” with carcinogenic arsenic
in order to stave off insect infestations. Of course, avoiding
too much sun exposure—and wearing high-SPF sunscreen—when
using those decks and playsets is another important way
to hedge one’s bets against cancer.
NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!
EarthTalk: What would you say are the most
important steps we need to take as a nation to counter the
impacts of climate change?
—Ned Parkinson, Chino, CA
are optimistic that President Obama will take strong
action to fight global warming during his second
term. But even if he convinces Congress to pass
binding legislation limiting carbon outputs, each
of us will continue to play an important role through
how we lead our own day-to-day lives.
more about the environment than ever before and the overwhelming
majority of us acknowledges that climate change is real
and human-induced. But still we continue to consume many
more resources per capita than any other nation and refuse
to take strong policy action to stave off global warming—even
though we have the power to do so.
gas emissions can be achieved in a top down manner—via
legislation mandating reductions in fossil fuel emissions—or
in a bottom-up fashion with individuals and businesses doing
their part by driving and flying less, conserving more and
embracing greener forms of energy. Environmental leaders
would like to see Americans take both paths to cut greenhouse
gas emissions as fast as possible.
The Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC), a leading green group, has proposed
a five-step plan for Americans to follow to cut greenhouse
gas emissions by 80 percent by mid-century. Step One is
to cut global warming pollution via “strong legislation
that caps carbon emissions and makes polluters pay for the
global warming gases they produce.” Step Two involves
investing more in green jobs and clean energy. Producing
more fuel efficient cars constitutes Step Three. Creating
green homes and buildings is Step Four. Step Five: Build
more sustainable communities and transportation networks.
to play a role, too, by altering our behaviors to reduce
our individual carbon footprints. NRDC has several suggestions
along these lines as well. Walking, biking or using public
transit instead of driving is one. If you must drive, make
sure for best gas mileage that your car is tuned and your
tires are properly inflated. If in need of a new car, look
into a hybrid or electric that consumes less or no gasoline.
On the home front,
weatherization can go a long way to lower heating and air
conditioning needs, thus saving significant amounts of energy.
Also, upgrading old appliances to more energy efficient
models and switching out old lightbulbs with new compact
fluorescents (CFL) or LEDs will keep carbon footprints down.
If your utility has a green energy option—with power
from wind, solar or other renewables—choose it, even
if it costs more than the coal-based electricity. And for
things you can’t change there are carbon offsets you
can buy that support renewable energy projects that will
offset your carbon emissions.
But perhaps the
most important tool we have as individuals for battling
global warming is our voice. “Send a message to your
elected officials, letting them know that you will hold
them accountable for what they do—or fail to do—about
global warming,” instructs NRDC. On the group’s
website you can customize a letter to President Obama urging
him to finalize a carbon pollution standard for new power
plants, and direct the Environmental Protection Agency to
set tough new standards for existing plants.
are optimistic that President Obama will take strong action
to fight global warming during his second term. But even
if he convinces Congress to pass binding legislation limiting
carbon outputs, each of us will continue to play an important
role through how we lead our own day-to-day lives.