Cancer & Our Environment 1

click to enlarge

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May is Brain Cancer Awareness month, and the heart of the Ramapo Valley is not immune from the tribulations of this specific disease.

The Matthew Larson Foundation based in Franklin Lakes, and the recently established Christopher Brandle Joy of Life Foundation, were born from the tragic loss of two young boys to pediatric brain cancer. The increase in brain cancer amongst the elderly may be a result of longer life spans, but the life spans of children cut short by the dramatic increase in pediatric brain cancer cannot dismissed so readily with a similar argument.

The New York Times reported in 1990, “New studies of epidemiological data from this country and abroad indicate that the rise is especially dramatic among the elderly, but scientists say that even among the young, the rate of at least one rare form of brain cancer is surging.” Two decades later the situation remains the same with limited success in identifying a cause or a cure.

The search for a cause just got help with the May 2010 release of a 240 page report from the President’s Cancer Panel. In 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, but since then the EPA has only required testing of 200 chemicals out of the estimated 80,000 made and used in the United States. The report calls for a major overhaul to address growing evidence that it is not just smoking and diet which cause cancer in America.

While lacking control over what substances are safely used by domestic manufacturers, there is even less oversight with respect to the enormous number of products flooding the American market from overseas. The United States trade deficit is evidence of Americans’ reliance on foreign food and manufactured products; while China’s first trade deficit in six years was 7 billion for the year, the U.S had a deficit of 38 billion in February alone. As a nation of consumers, the new report handed to President Obama is asking what are we actually consuming.

Pompton Lakes Site - click to enlarge

Pompton Lakes Site - click to enlarge

Locally, this region of northern NJ has seen its share of environmental damage. The closed Ford plant in Mahwah and the Witco Chemical plant in Oakland both required federal intervention and were listed as Superfund sites. The EPA has so far decided not to include Pompton Lakes as a Superfund site. In the Pompton Lakes situation, it was determined that the Dupont plant had polluted the groundwater and created vapors that were seeping into people’s homes.

The government’s definition of a hazardous danger, and its resolution, is often questionable. The federal government sold in March 2010 over 100,000 trailers reeking of formaldehyde that were deemed unusable for homeless survivors of Katrina. The government is requiring the trailers bear a sticker stating “Not to be used for housing“, but most will be resold as-is. This logic, combined with Governor Christie Whitman’s disingenuous assurances that the toxic stench surrounding the World Trade Center after 9/11 was safe to breath, have many people skeptical of government assurances.

Research, independent of corporate or political influence, is what many activists would like promoted. The National Childhood Brain Tumor Prevention Network Act has been stalled in Congress, but proponents hope the bill will be passed to provide additional resources in identifying a cause. There are many challenges in researching the cause of cancers, as the nation learned with asbestos. The fire retardant material was immensely popular and mined successfully for decades, but it was learned that a large portion of the population had a genetic code making them susceptible to developing mesothelioma.

Anecdotal evidence of other childhood cancer patients in the FLOW region is motivating some residents to examine their environment, how they live, and what steps they can take. The dramatic increase in childhood leukemia, childhood brain cancer, and juvenile diabetes nationwide is alarming, and the significant increases locally make many residents even more sensitive to the situation. Foundations like Iron Matt, Joy for Life, and Angels of Hope in Wyckoff all seek to raise awareness as one component of their missions. Those caring for young cancer patients in this area are being offered financial support by  Julia’s Butterfly Foundation based in Wyckoff.

Public awareness of the increase in specific cancers, public discussion, and individual participation certainly help in identifying causes; but science will be needed to find a cure. The road to that cure through research has been hampered by U. S. courts who allowed pharmaceutical companies to patent human genes. It was not until March 2010 that Judge Robert W. Sweet declared claims held by Myriad Genetics were “…unpatentable products of nature.”. The company announced plans to appeal.

Brain Cancer Awareness Month is a good time to remember those local children who battled the disease, and their neighbors who continue to combat their cancers. The State of NJ called on all citizens in a proclamation concerning childhood cancer when they declared:

Whereas, In New Jersey, from 1979 through 2005, 6,945 cases of cancer were diagnosed among children 14 years of age and younger. During this period, New Jersey childhood cancer incidence rates were higher in each age group and for both males and females than those for the United States; and

Whereas, It is appropriate that all citizens of the State of New Jersey be better informed about the risk factors of childhood cancers, as well as the impact childhood cancer has on the child, family, and community; now…

One thought on “Cancer & Our Environment

  • Linda Curhan

    Recently I attended a “mini” almost 30 year high school renunion. Of the 15 people who were there 3 had MS. I was shocked to learn of this so I did a little investigating and determined that there are many more people from my ’82 Indian Hills (OAKLAND) HS graduating class that have MS. Most live in the same area of town. Is there any research on the high incidence of MS in Oakland, New Jersey? I would really like to know this information as I find out more and more people being diagnosed with MS…such a debilitating disease. Thank you Linda

    Editor’s note: Linda, have you contacted the Oakland Board of Health? They might be of assitance to you in this matter.

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