Keeper.com's interview with environmental writer, Liz Armstrong
Click here to hear the interview with Liz Armstrong
SHOW NOTES: The numbers on the left refer to minutes. So "0-3:27" means that this segment occurs for 3 minutes, 27 seconds from the beginning of the audio.
00:00 to 3:27 – Liz Armstrong's background: How she became interested in the the effect of chemicals on the environment, and some of the people who influenced her, including Rachel Carson (Silent Spring), Bernadette Vallely (The Sanitary Protection Scandal), Judy Brady (One in Three Women with Cancer Con front an Epidemic), Dr. Sandra Steingraber (Living Downstream) and Dr. Devra Lee Davis (When Smoke Ran Like Water and the soon-to-be- released Secret History of the War on Cancer). Also discussed: Liz's first book, Whitewash, published in 1992, in collaboration with environmental lawyer Adrienne Scott, about the sanitary products industry.
3:27 – 8:59 – A longer discussion of Whitewash, Liz's first book, which looked at the possible health and environmental dangers of disposable menstrual products. Women's past efforts -- some successful -- to get bleach out of disposable menstrual products; also "stop the whitewash" campaigns. A discussion of the book, the Sanitary Protection Scandal (see link above), and Natracare, a Canadian company that manufactures bleach-free sanitary products. Other topics discussed here: the possible link between Toxic Shock Syndrome and dioxin in disposable menstrual products, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)'s bill, the Tampon Research and Safety Act, which would require the government to provide independent testing of menstrual products.
8:59 – 13:40 – Liz's new book, which she co-authored with Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth, Cancer 101: Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic: The book is set up in two sections (the problem, the solutions), with each section containing several 2-page segments -- which, in turn, contain suggestions for further reading. The book is very tightly structured, so that people won't feel daunted by this otherwise daunting topic.
13:40 – 17:12 – A history of the increase in carcinogenic chemicals in our environment: World War 2 and the "Chemical Revolution," with its motto, "better living through chemistry," along with the worship of technology. The rampant post-World War 2 spraying of our land with DDT, and the fogging machines that literally sprayed children as they played and ate at picnic tables. The dangerous, toxic products we use, and the fact that for each dangerous product, there are several clean, green alternatives.
17:20 – 24:26 – Liz discusses how the political and environmental agendas of Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and Reagan influenced both the funding and the results of studies about the connection between chemicals and cancer. How some flawed, slanted studies have distorted and underplayed the connection between environmental and occupational chemicals and cancer. The most influential and harmful study of this type:
the infamous 1981 meta-analysis conducted by the British researchers, Richard Doll and Richard Peto, which (incorrectly) concluded that only 2-4% of cancers were caused by occupational/environmental exposures, and 1-5% by pollution. Doll and Peto maintained that a much larger number of cancers -- the majority -- were caused by diet and smoking. For many years, this flawed meta-analysis has greatly influenced the thinking of our cancer societies (including the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute), as well as how the topic is reported in the media. A discussion of how studies are funded: the fact that companies with an agenda usually fund them, thus skewing the results. The sad part, says Liz, is that credible people are hired to put a "good shine on bad information." She calls for publicly funded research that is not tainted by these financial connections.
24:26 – 28:50 – Liz makes the point that, rather than calling for more and more studies, we should work to get chemicals out of the environment, since we KNOW that chemicals are harmful. We don't need studies to prove that there is a connection between environmental chemicals and cancer. For instance, look at the rise in hormone-related cancers – like breast, prostate and testicular cancers – and the increase in estrogenic chemicals being released into the environment. Although some research is needed, it is often used as a stalling mechanism. Liz talks about the work of Dr. Devra Davis, of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Environmental Oncology, and author of When Smoke Ran Like Water and the upcoming Secret History of the War on Cancer, which discusses (among other "bombshell" topics) the Doll-Peto "study." (Doll, it turns out, was on the payroll of chemical companies when he conducted that meta-analysis. This kind of behavior is shameful; this study resulted in our society's NOT regulating chemicals as much as it should have for many years.
28:50 – 32:00 – Chemicals in Healthcare. The organization, Healthcare Without Harm, which has taken on the healthcare industry for its connections with big chemical companies. How hospitals use carcinogenic products and materials. Also, a very interesting discussion about Tufts University scientists, Drs. Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein, and their discovery that the plastic tubing they were using in their breast cancer experiments was leaching phthalates into the petri dishes, resulting in the proliferation of cancer cells. Most upsetting is the fact that neither the product's distributor nor the FDA seemed upset when they learned this.
32:00 – 33:40 – The unholy connections between researchers and other staff at various agencies (Health Canada, FDA), and big business. In addition, a reduction in the funding of these agencies increases the dependence on data that comes from pharmaceutical and chemical companies. The public doesn't seem to be their "client" anymore. Rather, lots of times these agencies appear to be working for the corporations that create the products they should be studying.
33:40 – 38:00 – What can we, as citizens, do to get rid of toxic chemicals in the environment? We can use our consumer clout by buying products that are safer, and avoiding those that are heavily marketed, but aren't safe because they are filled with chemicals. Our homes are filled with toxic chemicals – many of which actually contain "skull andcrossbones" on the bottle. There are websites, books and newsletters that are great resources in this area. For instance, Debra Lynn Dadd, and her book, Home Safe Home.
38:00 – 41:00 – The pros and cons of information on the Internet. How mainstream media is finally reporting the environmental chemicals / cancer connection. Some publications that are doing good work in this area are the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, and especially their environmental reporter, Martin Mittelstaedt. Other newspapers with some good environmental reporters: Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal (especially articles on hormone disrupters), LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle.
41:00 – 42:45 – Liz discusses dioxin in tampons, but also, the fact that the factories that are making tampons and other disposable menstrual products are also pumping out dioxin into the environment, thus contaminating whole ecosystems – not just the products they are manufacturing.
42:45 – 45:00 – Chicago Tribune health reporter Julie Deardorff reports well on environmental issues. Liz points out that some organizations that are quoted in the media are "astroturf organizations," which means that
they are fronts for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. So, a lot of the news that is churned out is really from press releases originating from large corporations. VNRs – Video News Releases (or "fake news") – and how they influence the news we see on television. Diane Farsetta of prwatch.org, makes the public aware of these.
45:00 – 48:21 – The Susan G. Komen Foundation has recently sponsored a study with the Silent Spring Institute, titled "Environmental Factors in Breast Cancer," which has been published in the American Cancer Society (ACS) journal, Cancer. This is incredible news since, for decades, the ACS has resisted admitting any connection between environmental toxins and cancer. A discussion of how the American Cancer Society and the Canadian Cancer Society have been "kissing cousins" for a long time, with the Canadian society looking to the ACS for a lot of its policy. But, the Canadian group has broken away from the ACS, and has adopted the "precautionary" policy, and has taken the lead in Canada against the cosmetic use of pesticides in cities. The Komen Foundation has recently promised to continue to fund studies on the environmental toxins / cancer connection.
49:00 – 50:30 – Empowering people so that they'll know that they can help to improve the environment. Also discussed: Treehugger.com, which is solution-oriented, as is Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic.
50:30 – 53:47 – The vulnerability of the fetus to chemicals and carcinogens. A final plea: We must demand to act like Sweden, which has proposed that by 2020 they will eliminate all toxic chemicals. We must create the political will to do it.