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CBC MARKETPLACE: HEALTH » CANCER
to watch for
Broadcast: March 5, 2006
One of the most important
things you can do is pay close attention to what you're
exposing yourself to when you bring products into your
While the Canadian cancer conundrum
may seem desperate, there are some steps we as consumers
can take to limit our personal exposure to possible and
known human carcinogens.
One of the most important things you can do
is pay close attention to what you're exposing yourself
to when you bring products into your home.
activist Mae Burrows, executive director of the Labour
Environmental Alliance Society, has been fighting
to make easier for all consumers.
For nearly two years, Burrows has been working on a committee
with government and product makers to negotiate for warning
labels about carcinogens on products.
"What we're saying to industry is that we know you
can reformulate your products without these carcinogens
in it," she says. "Just do it. Get ahead of the
wave. You can make changes and you can still make a buck."
In the meantime, Burrows would like companies
to at least inform consumers when their products contain
a possible human carcinogen.
Her campaign has met some hefty resistance.
For one thing, companies argue that including such information
might just confuse people unless a carcinogen's risk is
Companies take the attitude that a
chemical is innocent until proven guilty, says Burrows.
But that's simply not good enough for her:
cancer by being exposed to this whole range of chemicals,
often at critical periods of your development, and over
a long period of time.
|WHAT IS A CARCINOGEN?
is a chemical known or believed to cause cancer in
humans. The number of proven carcinogens is
comparatively small, but many more chemicals are suspected
to be carcinogenic.
"When people start to understand
that, we'll start banning carcinogens and they should
be banned in every product. There's no excuse for them."
Burrows and the Labour
Environmental Alliance Society have published a list
they call the CancerSmart
Consumer Guide. It tracks products that contain potentially
write the product name," says Burrows. "We write
if it has a carcinogen in it, what that carcinogen is, according
to what source and then what are the alternatives."
CARCINOGENS TO WATCH FOR
In the garden
See Marketplace's story Household
Cleaners: A Toxic Brew for more on toxins found
in cleaning products.
In food and drink:
Agency for Research on Cancer (World Health Organization) classifies
alcoholic beverages as carcinogenic
to humans. For more on the potential
negative impact of drinking, see Marketplace's
As for food, from 1994 – 1998, the Canadian
Food Inspection Agency tested samples of a variety
of meat, produce and dairy products for the presence of
pesticides. The results were released to the public in
2002 and showed significant amounts of contamination from
dozens of pesticides including carcinogens such as captan,
chlorothalonil and benomyl.
While such contaminants are largely invisible to consumers,
there are some choices you can make at the supermarket to
lower your exposure to contaminants.
In its CancerSmart
Consumer Guide, Mae Burrow's Labour Environmental
Alliance Society lists the 15 most likely contaminated and
the 15 least likely contaminated fruits and vegetables,
based on data from the CFIA's 1994-1998 tests:
|15 MOST CONTAMINATED
|15 LEAST CONTAMINATED
Burrows' group also recommends that consumers
inform themselves about the following carcinogens that have
been gaining attention in recent food research:
story on acrylamide for more.
Produced when certain foods (particularly high-starch foods such as french fries
or potato chips) are cooked at temperatures over 120 degrees Celsius.
Chemical compounds formed by the reaction of amines and amino acids with nitrite
(used as a preservative in cured meats).
| Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
|| PCBs bio-accumulate in the fat of humans and animals,
products (cosmetics, hair care, etc.)
manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on
personal care products in Canada. That is scheduled
to change in November
labelling regulations take
See Marketplace's story Cosmetics
and the cancer connection for more.
Watch lists chemicals tracked by Environment Canada's
National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and documents
their health effects, including those that are carcinogenic.
Guide to Less Toxic Products was developed
by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia
to provide information about potential health risks of
commonly used products, and provide suggestions for alternatives.
detailed information on more than 11,200 chemicals, including
and suspected carcinogens.
and Suspected Carcinogens is a list compiled by the Physical
and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory at Oxford
and Probable Carcinogens from the American Cancer
Carcinogen List from the U.S. National
Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Lists compiled by the Brookhaven
National Laboratory (U.S. Department of Energy).