I See Dots

I see dots. Let’s try to connect them.

Yesterday morning’s news contained an alarm bell from a widespread coalition of groups (including Cancer Care Ontario, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Federation of Labour, multiple public health units, and more) that we “are living in a toxic soup that’s increasing our risk of getting cancer and it’s high time the government takes steps to obliterate this environmental threat.” Specifically, they released a study that identifies “150 toxins and carcinogens in the air we breathe, the food we eat and products we use every day.” It also says that “59,500 Ontarians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2007 out of 159,900 in Canada. It is projected that by 2020, 91,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed.”

These are not just statistics. Yesterday afternoon I bumped into a friend of mine who I haven’t seen since she was diagnosed with what she describes as “a wee case of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” She’s already been through chemotherapy, and is about halfway done her radiation treatment. She must be exhausted, but she hid it well. She seemed as energetic and positive as ever, and there’s a good chance she’ll be OK. As someone in my twenties who’s already lost two friends to cancer, I welcome that good news.

In other good news, Canadians are starting to realize that environmental and health policies are related. On the other hand, that’s driven by the fact that “27 per cent of Canadians believe they have environment-related illnesses.”

In a new book called Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products (via this review), author Mark Schapiro “reveals the grim fact that some companies, whether American or international, often have two production lines: one that manufactures hazard-free products for the European Union and another that produces toxin-filled versions of the same items for [North] America and developing countries.” Because, you see, European governments have made it illegal for companies to poison their populations with known carcinogens, while our governments have not.

And here, we come to the final dot. Today and yesterday, Stephen Harper, George Bush (who each have approval ratings in the 30’s) and president Felipe Calderón of Mexico are engaged in closed-door talks to further North American deep integration via the Security and Prosperity Partnership, or SPP. One of the objectives (or, at least, as far as we can tell, since the government’s position on these negotiations according to Stockwell Day is that they’re “private meetings” and “journalists should understand” they cannot be commented upon) is to unify environmental and health regulations, which could result in the US government deciding which toxins and carcinogens are allowed to go into our breakfast cereal.

I’d really rather we make that decision. And that the answer be “none.”

3 thoughts on “I See Dots

  1. Your point is well taken. However, I’d caution you against connecting too many dots here…

    As the old saying goes, “correlation is not causality”. The coalition report, while alarming, does not specifically identify a causal relationship between the toxins in the environment and cancer rates. Just because a substance is carcinogeic does not mean you will definitely develop cancer when exposed to it. In addition, the rate of cancer diagnosis in Ontario- slightly more than 1/3- is more or less in line with Ontario’s proportion of Canada’s overall population. So, it’s difficult to conclude that a greater rate of cancer diagnosis is due to the greater prevalence of carcinogens. Moreover, Ontario is not disproportionately affected.

  2. ‘Just because a substance is carcinogeic does not mean you will definitely develop cancer when exposed to it.’ Well, duh.

    Are you willing to bet your life and that of those you love, on the gamble that increasing the amount of toxins in our environment will not increase the likelihood that you and they will develop some incurable form of cancer?

  3. I’m not much of a gambler, and I don’t know the odds…probably because the study doesn’t mention them.

    I think my point was that when we’re dealing with a public policy issue, the solutions should be evidence-based. So when approaching policymakers, it’s important that we don’t overstate or mis-characterize the existing data.

    Just good science, really.

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