Does Not Support
the Popular Image
of Cancer Clusters
(From a webpage at American Council of Science
New YorkMarch 2001: While years of news reports and Hollywood productions
have led the public to believe that industrial pollution in the environment
is causing local "cancer clusters," areas where cancer cases are
thought to be more prevalent, there
is no evidence of a link between so-called "clusters" and exposure
to trace environmental chemicals.
These are among
the conclusions of a new report, Cancer
Clusters: Findings Vs. Feelings, which cites many scientifically
documented instances in which chemical exposure has caused cancer in humans
but notes that these have generally been occupational exposures rather than
purely environmental. Contamination in the air or water supply causing cancer
to develop in residents of a neighborhood, popularly thought to be a common
occurrence, has rarely been
documented through scientific investigation. The report
was prepared by scientists at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).
Scientists have been able to identify cancer clusters linked to specific occupational
exposures (workers in a factory developing a particular type of cancer from
one of the chemicals they handle every day) or clusters linked to particular
medications or behaviors such as smoking and sunbathing. But
science does not support the popular image of traces of chemical contamination
elevating the cancer risk of the residents of a particular area.
In addition to distinguishing between scientific and public perceptions, Cancer
Clusters examines two potential clusters in Toms River, New Jersey and Long
Island, New York that contain many elements typical of cancer cluster investigations
and have received considerable media attention.
The report concludes, "Based
on the data available today, there is no firm evidence that traces of industrial
pollution diffused in the environment are causing cancer clusters. For now,
however, there is a substantial gap between scientific findings on this issue
and public perceptions."
Dr. Gilbert Ross, M.D., medical director of the American Council on Science
and Health, comments on the report, "The
common perception is that chemicals in the environment are responsible for
increased cancer rates in populations exposed to pollution." He continues,
"In actual fact, there is no scientific evidence to support environmental
pollution as a cause of cancer; indeed, another misconception is that cancer
rates are going up, and this is false. Scientists should be pursuing the real
causes of cancer that can be modified, such as cigarette smoking and excess
exposure to the sun."
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