Categories: Toxicity, Tumors

Cancer Causing Chemical Pollutants

August 2004

There’s a breast cancer epidemic in the United States. Between 180,000 and 200,000 women will fall victim to the disease this year. For about 20% of them, 40,000, the disease will prove fatal. If doubt that the situation is out of control and has reached crisis proportions, consider the following:

  • Three decades ago, the odds of a woman getting breast cancer were 1 in 20.
  • Ten years ago, the odds of a woman getting breast cancer were 1 in 13.
  • Today, the odds of a woman getting breast cancer are 1 in 7!

In other words, today you are three times as likely to get breast cancer as you were in the 1970s.

But that’s not all.

According to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER data, the rate of occurrence for breast cancer among women under the age of 40 increased by 55% between 1951 and 1995, and continues to rise at around 2% per year!

Why is this happening?

Initially, researchers dismissed the rise in the breast cancer rate claiming it was nothing more than the result of more intensive screening. Because more women were getting mammograms, they argued, it was natural that cases that had previously gone undetected would be found, giving the appearance of an increased rate. The trouble is, were this the case, after an initial rise in new cases, the breast cancer rate would be expected to level off, reflecting the new, more aggressive screening. That isn’t what happened. Instead, the rate continued to rise. Moreover, while previously undetected cases might account for a slight rise in the breast cancer rate, there is no way they could be responsible for the rate tripling!

  • But if it’s not more screening, what is the cause, and why haven’t we heard more about it?
  • The answer is that an unholy alliance of special interests doesn’t want you to know the truth! There is simply too much money, power and influence at stake!
  • Above all else, this alliance doesn’t want you to learn one central fact: the very people we have put our faith in to cure breast cancer may be its principal cause!
  • To understand how this could be it is necessary first to examine the evidence showing the link between the breast cancer epidemic and its cause.


Researchers will argue that determining the cause of a disease as complex as breast cancer is an illusive goal. Yet, a simple calculus points a clear finger of blame:

  • Fully 70% of the women who contract breast cancer have NONE of the known risk factors.
  • Non-industrialized countries have far lower rates of breast cancer than industrialized countries.
  • North America and Northern Europe have the highest breast cancer rates.
  • Asia and Africa have the lowest breast cancer rates.
  • Women who live in non-industrialized countries and then move to industrialized countries develop breast cancer at the same rate as women who have always lived in industrialized countries.

In short, something is happening in the industrialized world that is causing the breast cancer epidemic!

But what is it?

If you listen to the “experts,” they’ll tell you that the reason is that women are too fat, or are taking hormone replacement therapy or that they have a genetic disposition to the disease or that they didn’t breast feed or that they did breast feed or that they had children too late or that they didn’t have enough children. According to the “experts” any way you slice it, it’s the fault of the women who get breast cancer that they have contracted a life-threatening disease!

In other words, blame the victim!

  • It’s an easy out. It’s also a way to divert attention from the real cause: the ever-increasing presence of toxic chemicals in our environment.
  • There are over 85,000 synthetic chemicals in commercial use today, and more than 90% of them have never been tested for their effects on human health. Of those that have been tested, many are known to be carcinogenic.
  • But how do we know that we are being exposed to these chemicals? We know because no less an authority than the United States Geological Survey says that we are.


Two studies by The U.S. Geological Survey show just how bad the problem has become. One examined water from 406 urban wells and 2,543 rural wells. It found that one or more volatile organic compounds (industrial solvents and related chemicals) were present in 47% of the urban wells and 14% of the rural wells. They affected the drinking water of as many as 50 million Americans. Included among the noxious chemicals the USGS discovered were benzene and xylene, both powerful carcinogens. The four chemicals detected most frequently trichloroethene and tetrachloroethen which are industrial solvents, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) a gasoline additive and thrichloromethane (chloroform) which is a solvent and a byproduct of the disinfection of drinking water. A second study by the USGS examined the presence of pharmaceutical products, hormones and other organic products in U.S. streams.

These results were equally disturbing. Substances found included steroids, human and veterinary drugs natural and synthetic hormones, detergents, plasticizers insecticides and fire retardants. In many instances, wastewater chemicals were mixed in the streams sampled. In half the samples, seven or more chemicals were detected and in one 38 separate chemicals were found. What is most troubling is that there are no safety standards of health advisories for many of the chemicals the researchers found. Nor is there any understanding of what health effects may result from exposures to combinations of the substances detected. Moreover, the level of contamination is likely to increase as the volume of chemicals used in agricultural and other applications continues to grow. For example, in California alone, the use of carcinogenic pesticides increased by 127% between 1991 and 1998. In other regions of the country, similar increases have occurred.

But is there really a threat?

The evidence suggests there is.


Although chemical manufacturers deny any health threat from their products, studies of exposures in the workplace and the home suggest otherwise. For example, in New Jersey, a study of 24,000 blue collar workers found a significant association between breast cancer in African-American women and employment in one of several chemical-intensive industries. Ironically, one of the industries where this phenomenon was present was pharmaceuticals, where breast cancer mortality among workers was 1.64 times higher than the national average. In the electrical equipment industry, where industrial solvents are widely used, the rate was 1.51 times higher. A study of New York women in the electrical and printing industries had similar findings. The scope of the problem becomes evident when you consider that 4 million women are employed in the chemical industry and that at least one million of them are exposed to chemicals that are known to cause breast cancer!

Nor is this news recent.

A study published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine in 1977 reported that women exposed to vinyl chloride in the workplace experienced a higher than expected rate of deaths from breast cancer. But you don’t have to work around toxic chemicals to develop an increased breast cancer risk. On Long Island, the New York Department of Health found that women who had lived near large chemical plants located there experienced a sharply increased risk of breast cancer. Another study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that breast cancer mortality among white women increased in direct proportion to how close they lived to one of that state’s 111 Superfund toxic waste sites. The closer they were, the greater the risk. Further, it’s not just epidemiological studies that suggest the link between chemical pollution and breast cancer.


In a recent study, researchers at the Sart Tilman Hospital in Liege Belgium have concluded that women with breast cancer have higher residues of the chemicals DDT and HCB in their tissue. The study included 159 women with breast cancer and 250 healthy women. According to Dr. Charles Charlier, a lead researcher, “These results add to the growing evidence that certain persistent pollutants may occur in higher concentrations in blood samples from breast cancer patients than controls.” What was particularly striking was that 25% of the healthy women had no detectable levels of either DDT or HCB in their blood samples whereas only 2.5% of the women with breast cancer did.

Since it is known that DDT and HCB act like estrogen in the human body, stimulating the growth of precancerous and cancerous cells, the finding provides an important indication of the role these pollutants may have in the rapid increase in breast cancer rates. First used in the 1940s, DDT use peaked in 1962, when 80 million kilograms were applied to crops forests and other land areas. With the publication of “The Silent Spring,” however, concern over the effects of widespread use of the chemical arose. As a result, it was banned by the EPA in 1972. As of 1995, its use was banned in 49 countries. While DDT has been banned, it remains a problem due to its persistence in the environment. The USGS has found DDT residues in water and soil samples a much as 20 years after it was first applied!

Of course, it’s not just DDT that is a problem.

A New York University study on women’s health reported that women with the highest concentrations of chlorine-based pesticides and other organochlorines in their blood and fat had cancer risks from 4 to 10 times higher than the general population. For New Yorkers this is a particularly significant finding because there are an estimated million pounds of PCBs (a family of organochlorines chemicals) buried at the bottom of a 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River. The chemical contamination was the consequence of decades of dumping by a General Electric Plant and led to contamination of fish and wildlife throughout the region. Ultimately the State of New York had to sue GE to force the company to pay for dredging of a waterway that runs parallel to the Hudson near Albany, NY.

And what did GE industry say to this?

  • The company claimed the river was “cleaning itself!”
  • As far as they were concerned there wasn’t a problem!
  • But that’s not all. Wherever possible the chemical companies are sure no one else thinks there’s a problem – or at least they’re not able to say that one exists!


When a number of earlier studies came out suggesting that there was a higher presence of residues of DDT and other chemicals in breast tumor tissues, they were quickly debunked by an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. What was not revealed in the article, however, was the fact that it had been funded by the Chemical Manufacturers Association. Nor was this the only instance where critics of environmental contamination were attacked. When author Sandra Steingraber published “Living Downstream,” a book concerning the link between environmental pollution and cancer in 1998, the New England Journal of Medicine was quick to publish a scathing book review accusing the author of being obsessed with environmental pollution as the cause of cancer. Again, the Journal was less than candid.

It only identified the book review’s author as Jerry H. Berke. What it neglected to disclose was the Mr. Berke was a senior official at W.R. Grace and Company, among the largest chemical manufacturers. It also failed to note the Grace had been forced into a $69 million clean-up of contaminated wells in Woburn, Massachusetts by the Environmental Protection Agency! When a prestigious scientific organization, the International Joint Committee (IJC) recommended a global phase-out of many chlorinated chemicals, affecting roughly 15,000 compounds, the industry was quick to react in opposition to the move. The IJC had not made its recommendation in a vacuum. There had been mounting evidence about the danger of these chemicals and something even more dramatic.

By 1978, Israel had one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world – 25%. Moreover, the breast cancer rate had been increasing annually in Israel for a quarter century. It also, however, had one of the highest rates of environmental pollution from chlorine chemical pesticides such as benzene hexachloride, and DDT. Responding to public pressure, the government there banned the use of these substances. Remarkably, following the move, the breast cancer rate began to drop. By 1986 it had fallen by 8% for all groups and by more than a third for women between the ages of 25 and 34. In the face of such overwhelming evidence the IJC recommendation was clearly justified – at least that’s what one would think. Apparently, however, the logic of the decision was not as clear to the chemical industry, or, more important, it’s new ally: The American Cancer Society!

And therein lies the other half of the story.

For decades, America’s land, water and air have been filled with noxious substances that are largely responsible for the cancer epidemic the nation is facing. Yet, many of the very institutions we rely on to fight the scourge of cancer have made a devil’s bargain with the very companies responsible for that pollution.

  • The evidence suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and the nation’s cancer epidemic seems impossible to ignore.
  • A study of female chemists found they had a 65% higher chance of dying from breast cancer.
  • A study comparing U.S. counties with two or more active waste sites with counties that had no such facilities found women living in the areas with waste sites had a 6.5 times higher likelihood of dying from breast cancer.
  • A study of counties with two or more instances of chemical pollution found women died from breast cancer at twice the rate of unpolluted counties.
  • You would think that these findings are just too compelling to ignore – but that’s exactly what the cancer establishment, including the American Cancer Society (ACS) is doing.

The ACS Turns A Blind Eye

In the section “Unproven Risks” on the ACS website the organization states:

“Public concern about environmental cancer risks often focuses on risks for which no carcinogenicity has been proven or on situations where known carcinogen exposures are at such low levels that risks are negligible.” The site goes on to dismiss cancer risks from pesticides, toxic wastes, DDT and a host of other sources. Even where the ACS does acknowledge the existence of data suggesting an increased risk, it quickly dismisses the findings. For example, concerning the documented link between DDT and breast cancer, the organization says:

“Environmental pollution by pesticides such as DDT, which is now banned, but was used in agriculture in the past, degrade slowly and can lead to accumulation in body fat. These residues have been suggested as a possible risk factor for breast cancer, although study results have been largely negative.” Yet, the ACS must know that their assertion is flatly untrue! In fact, most studies have suggested a link, and there is only one, funded by chemical companies, that suggests otherwise.

But this isn’t the only example from the ACS’ own website.

The ACS devotes the first half (over 7 pages) of a lengthy article on the possible link between the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange and cancer to various studies debunking a connection. Buried in the middle of the article are the results of the authoritative National Institutes of Health, Institute of Medicine (IOM) study of Agent Orange that found “Sufficient Evidence of an Association” between the chemical defoliant and several forms of cancer including Soft Tissue Sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s Disease and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). The IOM report also found at least limited or suggestive evidence of a link between the chemical and respiratory cancers of the lung, trachea, bronchus and larynx, Prostate Cancer and Multiple Myeolma. Also buried far down in the ACS article is the fact that the National Toxicology Program has designated phenoxy herbicides such as Agent Orange “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and that the same institution also found one of the constituent elements of Agent Orange, dioxin, a “known human carcinogen.”

But even that isn’t all.

Buried near the end of the article is one critical bit of information: the Department of Veterans Affairs considers Vietnam Veterans suffering from any of seven forms of cancer to have a service connected disability and therefore eligible for compensation because of a presumed link between these cancers and Agent Orange exposure! Even as it discounts the link between environmental pollution and cancer, the ACS is just as quick to dismiss most alternative medicine as “unproven” (more on that later). But why would the American Cancer Society cavalierly dismiss evidence that might point to the underlying causes of so many types of cancer? Why would it also discount most alternative medical therapies out-of-hand? To answer these questions you have to follow the money.

The ACS is the oldest and unquestionably wealthiest member of the anticancer establishment. With an annual income exceeding $325 million and assets in excess of $1 billion it dwarfs most charitable organizations. But it’s not just cancer research that benefits from this huge revenue stream. According to the ACS’ most recent public filing, nearly two-thirds (63.3%) of its budget goes to overhead. This figure includes 19.6% for salaries (with almost $2.1 million in salaries and benefits to the top 5 employees) and another 19.1% for accounting and professional fees. Taken together this means that 38.7% of the money average citizens have donated for what they believed was cancer research went into the pockets of individuals!

In short, there are a lot of people associated with the ACS who have a strong vested interest in not alienating donors. But what does chemical pollution have to do with the ACS donor base? More than you might imagine, but to understand the connection, you first have to understand the connection between the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

The Chemical/Pharmaceutical Nexus

Today, the global drug market is controlled by about a dozen mega-companies that came into existence through a series of mergers at the end of the 1990s. Conceived as so-called “life sciences companies” these firms frequently were involved in manufacturing across a wide range of areas related to chemistry, often including both pharmaceuticals and agricultural products. These huge new companies including firms such as Pfizer, Bristol-Myers, Bayer, Pharmacia, Novartis, Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline exercise a degree of control over virtually all aspects of pharmaceutical markets that is unprecedented in history. What most people do not realize is that the advent of these mega-corporations also meant that many of these companies are cashing in on cancer in two ways: making the products that may cause cancer, and then providing the pharmaceutical products and services that are used to fight it!

And that’s not the end of the outrage!

Through an incestuous series of relationships between the private, non-profit and government sectors, the Cancer Establishment makes sure that nothing is done to threaten its profit machine.

For example, Aventis, the pharmaceutical giant resulting from the merger of Hoechst AG and Rhone-Poulenc produces drugs ranging from the antihistamine Allegra to the chemotherapy agent Taxotere. But it’s not just drugs that Aventis manufactures. Its subsidiary, Aventis Agriculture, also manufactures pesticides and herbicides whose overuse may be a major factor in the current cancer epidemic.

Dow Chemical, which manufactures the organophosphate pesticide Dursban that was banned from yard and garden use due to its toxic effects on the brain, is also a major producer of radiopharmaceuticals used to treat cancer. GlaxoSmithKline has a dozen anticancer drugs already approved and some 145 in various stages of testing. But the company also owns and operates dozens of chemical plants around the world. The GlaxoSmithKline chemical plant in Ulverston, UK is considered one of the worst polluters in Great Britain.

Bayer, the company most people associate with aspirin actually is among the largest of the pharmaceutical behemoths and the manufacturer of Taxene, among the most widely used breast cancer drugs. But Bayer is also the manufacturer of a wide range of insecticides; weed and disease control products for food and fiber crops.

In some cases, however, drug companies have tried to camouflage.

For example, in November of 2000 after Novartis and AstraZeneca merged, they elected to spin off their agricultural products divisions to create a new entity, Syngenta. Of course, that doesn’t mean that AstraZeneca is through contributing to the cancer epidemic. The firm also manufacturers Tamoxifen, one of the most widely prescribed breast cancer drugs, which itself, is a known carcinogen!

In April of 2000, Pharmacia/Upjohn acquired Monsanto chemicals Searle pharmaceutical unit, nominally spinning off the chemical products division. But Pharmacia retained an 85% controlling interest making the separation little more than a ruse to hide the connection between the drug giant and one of the most notorious industrial polluters in history. In the 1970s and 1980s, Monsanto had been a major manufacturer of phenoxy herbicides and has numerous toxic waste sites on its properties around the nation. It has also been accused of exposing its workers to high levels of the cancer causing compound dioxin. By 2002, Pharmacia decided it had to divest its interest in Monsanto completely, but it chose a unique method of accomplishing this objective.

It divested the company by distributing its shares to Pharmacia’s stockholders – in other words, the same people owned both companies! So while there was no longer a direct connection between the two manufacturers, there really was no change in ownership! So the same people could continue to benefit from the sale of cancer-causing pesticides and the sale of drugs to treat cancer! But what does the chemical/pharmaceutical link have to do with groups like the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and with events like the “Race for the Cure” or “Breast Cancer Awareness Month?” As it turns out, more than you might think! It also explains the mindless opposition to alternative therapies that has characterized the establishment nonprofit cancer organizations for so long.

Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You

As noted, the American Cancer Society has had a long history of downplaying the role of environmental pollution in causing cancer. It also has had a similar history of resistance to the use of alternative therapies. On its website the ACS quotes Barrie Cassileth’s view of alternatives:

  • “Alternative therapies are unproven methods that are generally invasive and harmful and have a major physiologic effect Avoid any regimen or product that is offered as a cancer cure outside of mainstream medicine.”
  • At the end of the section the ACS quotes former JAMA editor Dr. George D. Lundberg:
  • “Until solid evidence is available that demonstrates the safety, efficacy, and effectiveness of specific alternative medicine interventions, uncritical evidence of untested and unproven alternative medicine therapies must stop.”
  • Why would the ACS be so adamant in it’s condemnation of alternatives? One answer might be the composition of its board.
  • Roughly half of the American Cancer Society’s board of directors is comprised of oncologists and other medical practitioners with a vested interest in the continued use of conventional medicine to treat cancer – but that’s not all.

More than a decade ago, the ACS established a subsidiary, the American Cancer Society Foundation as a means of attracting large grants from corporate donors. According to the Foundation’s official report to the U.S. government, federal form 990, its directors include Mr. Robert A. Ingram, Vice Chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, Ms. Karen Katen, President of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals and Executive Vice President of Pfizer Inc. Gary M. Reedy, Worldwide Vice President for Pharmaceutical Policy of Johnson & Johnson and Martin J. Murphy, Founder and CEO of AlphaMed Consulting LLC.

In its 2002 form 990, the ACS Foundation lists major gifts from Eastman Kodak, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Pharmacia, Merck and Company, AstraZeneca, and Ortho Biotech. The fact that at least half of the firms, Eastman Kodak, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, and AstraZeneca have been major producers of the toxic chemicals that are contributing to the current cancer epidemic doesn’t seem to bother the ACS Foundation. Of course, the Foundation is not alone among the non-profit members of the cancer establishment in its willingness to accept money from questionable sources.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, best known for its “Race for the Cure” events proudly lists among its sponsors, Occidental Chemical Corporation, a division of Occidental Petroleum. Occidental, was the company responsible for one of the most notorious instances of environmental contamination: Love Canal. Then New York Governor Hugh Carey said in a special report on Love Canal presented to the State Legislature in 1978: “The profound and devastating effects of the Love Canal tragedy, in terms of human health and suffering and environmental damage, cannot and probably will never be fully measured.”

Some of the damage has, however, been assessed.

  • The risk of having a miscarriage, or having an infant suffer from “crib death” was three times higher for Love Canal residents.
  • Birth defects among children born near Love Canal were 56% higher than normal.
  • The incidence of urinary tract disorders was 2.8 times higher than normal.
  • The incidence of nervous breakdowns and other serious mental health problems was over six times as high in areas with a high concentration of the pollutants from Love Canal than in areas where the concentration was minimal.
  • The likelihood of dying from cancer was three times the national average.

Of course, Occidental is a member of the Komen Foundation’s “Million Dollar Council,” firms that contribute more than a million dollars to the organization. A million dollars apparently covers a multitude of sins. But Occidental isn’t the only firm supporting the Race for the Cure that has a questionable history or a conflict of interest. An examination of sponsors for a representative sample of local Race for the Cure events makes this more than evident.

In the nation’s Capital, Bristol-Meyers, Astra Zeneca and Eastman Kodak all are listed as sponsors, as is the American Society of Clinical Oncology and GE Healthcare. AstraZeneca is also listed as a sponsor of events in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Pharmacia sponsors the Race for the Cure in Southwest Michigan, and Bristol-Meyers is a Tulsa Sponsor.

The success that Big Pharma has achieved in polishing its image by sponsorship of events like Race for the Cure has inspired at least one company to develop nearly a dozen copy-cat events. In its annual report, AstraZeneca boasts of its role in a variety of “awareness” events including National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Minority Health Month. That their chemical products may have contributed to the spread of these diseases, of course, is no barrier to accepting their funding.

The Impact

While on the surface it may appear that the largesse of Big Pharma is based in nothing more than a desire to be good corporate citizens, the reality is much more sinister. Establishment non-profit organizations like the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation exercise an enormous influence over opinion leaders both inside and outside official circles. This is in part due to the perception that they have no financial stake in established cancer treatments and pharmaceuticals. This perception is false. But that doesn’t diminish their influence. In myriad ways, large and small, the cancer establishment’s non-profit sector exercises an enormous influence over legislation before Congress.

They are listened to on issues of treatment, research funding and prevention – all because legislators believe they have no vested financial interest. The truth is that with a national board whose membership is substantially comprised of oncologists, radiologists and others who derive their income from conventional therapies to treat cancer, these organizations have a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo. For organizations like the American Cancer Society Foundation whose board includes senior executives of major pharmaceutical/chemical firms, the conflict is even more evident.

The impact of their influence is apparent. Why else would the established anticancer organizations only advocate the therapies that benefit Big Pharma and Organized Medicine while attacking alternatives? Why else would these same groups ignore the increasingly apparent link between environmental contamination and cancer? Why else would they virtually ignore prevention? The simple truth is that they don’t want to jeopardize their power, position and privilege. Of course, with salary and benefit packages in excess of half a million dollars, like the one the president of the American Cancer Society has, there’s a pretty large personal stake in the status quo.

Author: Neal Deoul