Could Your Job Cause Cancer?

Reader Contribution by Stephanie Bloyd

In today’s copy of the Environmental Health News ‘Above the Fold’ newsletter, there was an article about residents in a small Texas town, called Sommerville, suing a railway company for chemical exposure that allegedly caused high cancer rates in their community.

Workers at the town’s railroad tie plant used to dip the ties in creosote, a coal tar wood preservative. One resident compared the town’s increased cancer cases to the plague, another said, ‘You could go to almost every other house and someone has died, or has got cancer in the house right now.’ The town is home to approximately 1,700 people.

Many stories like this were shared at the recent Bioneers conference. Communities, often impoverished ones, that neighbored industrial waste sites can be afflicted with higher incidences of disease and health problems. Sadly, many modern medical doctors do little to study the environmental effects on health.

The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) hosts a searchable Toxicant and Disease Database that correlates chemicals and diseases based on data from medical textbooks. For instance, if you search the database for creosote, the results show a ‘strong’ correlation between creosote and skin disorders, as well as ‘good’ correlation between non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney cancer, scrotal cancer and skin cancer.

Meanwhile the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway company being sued in Texas issued a statement saying the litigation was based on ‘lawsuit-driven junk science.’ It will be interested to see if the courts agree.

The EPA is currently reassessing creosote, and is expected to make a decision by September 2008.

For more environmental health resources, visit the Women’s Health and the Environment site. CHE also published a review of scientific literature called Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer. Visit the site’s ‘Science’ tab for other health topics. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has online resources for communities facing problems like those found in Sommerville.