Almost everybody has been touched by cancer. Some have battled cancer personally, while others have lost loved ones to the disease. While there is still much to be learned about the hows and whys of cancer, experts know that certain environmental toxins can damage DNA, and consequently, cause cancer. Below are two of the worst environmental toxins and the types of cancer directly linked to them.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous silicate mineral that is resistant to heat, water, fire, and corrosion. It was once widely used by the construction industry in products such as insulation, concrete, bricks, and drywall. Many people currently believe that asbestos was banned in the United States when the dangers of exposure first surfaced, but this is not entirely true. Asbestos is still allowed in consumer products if the amount constitutes less than 1% of the product.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, more than 27 million working Americans were directly exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1979. Among several serious diseases caused by exposure, mesothelioma is considered by many to be the most serious. Once diagnosed, this aggressive cancer spreads rapidly and has one of the lowest five-year survival rates of any cancer. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are available treatment options aimed at reducing symptoms and extending the patient’s lifespan, but unfortunately, mesothelioma has no cure.
Ethylene oxide, often referred to as EtO, is another dangerous environmental toxin. EtO is an odorless, colorless gas that is used by both manufacturers and medical sterilization plants. In the manufacturing sector, it can be used to produce items such as antifreeze, shampoos, detergents, and plastics. It’s also utilized to sterilize healthcare equipment, including surgery packs, single-use medical devices, and personal protective equipment.
Unfortunately, exposure to EtO is dangerous to the factory workers, as well as to the residents living near the facilities. The EPA has declared that EtO is a carcinogen and a mutagen, and it has been linked to several cancers, including breast cancer, stomach cancer, lymphomas, and leukemias. Sadly, children are the most at risk from EtO exposure, and studies have found that childhood leukemia rates are substantially higher in neighborhoods near emitting facilities.
Although the EPA has publicly declared the risks of breathing EtO, there is currently no ban on the use of this toxin. While communities continue to wait for government action to protect them, several grass-roots organizations will continue pleading for a solution.
Environmental toxins, such as asbestos and EtO, have been shown to alter DNA and cause cancer. Sadly, neither has yet to be fully banned in the United States, and people exposed to these substances continue to suffer.