July20 , 2024

    Industrial Chemicals and Their Troubling Connection to Cancer

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    Cancer remains a significant global concern, tearing families apart worldwide. WHO predicts a staggering 77% increase in new cancer cases by 2050. This would amount to over 35 million cases, up from an estimated 20 million instances in 2022.

    While various factors contribute to the rise of cancer, certain toxic chemicals used in the past continue to pose serious risks today. Despite being banned, many of these chemicals persist in causing cancer in the modern era.

    In this article, we will look into three industrial chemicals known for their carcinogenic effects. We will also examine their origins, health implications, and the ongoing challenges in regulation and prevention.

    Benzene

    Benzene, a colorless liquid with a sweet odor, is widely used in the production of plastics, rubbers, dyes, and pesticides. It is also a component of gasoline and is released into the environment through emissions from industrial processes, vehicle exhausts, and cigarette smoke.

    Additionally, recent testing by Valisure revealed that numerous popular personal care products in the US contain benzene. Valisure’s testing detected benzene in 27% of the 662 personal care products tested, including hand sanitizers, sunscreens, deodorants, and more. 

    The contamination was particularly prevalent in aerosol or spray products, some exceeding levels characterized by the FDA as “life-threatening.” Major brands like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and CVS issued voluntary recalls for affected products, as per The Guardian report. 

    Health Impact

    Exposure to benzene is linked to various cancers, especially leukemia, such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and other blood-related cancers. Chronic exposure, even at low levels, is associated with an elevated risk of developing these conditions. 

     

    Moreover, benzene is known to damage bone marrow cells, where blood cells are produced, disrupting their normal function and potentially leading to cancerous mutations.

    PCB (Polychlorinated Biphenyls)

    PCBs, part of the chlorinated hydrocarbon family, were industrially produced from 1929 until their prohibition in 1979, EPA notes. They come in a variety of forms, from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. 

    PCBs were widely employed in industrial and commercial applications due to their fireproof nature and chemical stability. They also boasted a high boiling point and excelled as electrical insulators. 

    Health Impact

    Exposure to PCBs has been linked to various health effects, including cancer. TorHoerman Law highlights that PCBs are classified by the EPA and other reputable health organizations as probable carcinogens for humans.

     

    They have been associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer, among other types of cancer. PCBs can accumulate in the body over time, leading to chronic health problems.

     

    The case of North Carolina State University’s Poe Hall serves as a stark example of the dangers of PCB exposure. Poe Hall was constructed in 1971 with the common use of PCBs in building materials. Decades after their 1979 ban, elevated levels of these toxic chemicals were found in the building.

     

    Over 150 individuals linked to the building, including students, staff, and alumni, have reported serious PCB exposure symptoms like lymphoma, thyroid cancer, and breast cancer. They attribute these health issues to their time spent in Poe Hall.

     

    Sarah Glad, an alumna who attended Poe Hall, tragically died from stage four breast cancer at the age of 35. Her family believes her illness was linked to PCB exposure during her master’s program. The situation has prompted lawsuits against the university as affected individuals seek accountability and awareness about the health risks associated with PCBs.

     

    This example underscores the significant health risks posed by PCB exposure. These chemicals can persist in the environment and buildings long after their use, leading to devastating health consequences for those exposed.

    Asbestos

    Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring minerals known for their heat resistance and durability. Historically, asbestos has been used in construction materials such as insulation, roofing, and flooring tiles, as well as in automobile parts and textiles.

    Over 50 countries have already banned this carcinogenic substance. Recently, on March 18, 2024, after extensive deliberation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule. This rule prohibits ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos, the only type still in use or imported into the United States. 

    Despite this decision, industries using white asbestos will have up to 12 years to phase it out, as reported by the BBC.

    Health Impact

    Inhaling asbestos fibers can lead to serious health issues like lung cancer and mesothelioma, affecting the lungs and abdomen lining. According to the BBC, asbestos exposure leads to about 40,000 deaths each year in the US from these cancers. 

    The fibers are highly durable and can linger in the lungs for years after exposure. They cause inflammation and scarring that can progress to cancerous growths over time.

    FAQs

    What health effects are associated with PCB exposure?

    PCB exposure has been linked to a range of health effects, including cancer, reproductive and developmental effects, immune system impairment, and neurological effects.

    Where was asbestos commonly used?

    Asbestos was commonly utilized in building materials, including insulation, roofing, flooring, and cement products. It was also found in automobile parts, textiles, and various industrial applications.

    Why is benzene harmful?

    Benzene is carcinogenic to humans, and exposure can lead to serious health effects, including leukemia (cancer of the blood-forming organs) and other blood disorders. Long-term exposure can also affect the bone marrow and immune system.

     

    In summary, the prevalence of cancer linked to industrial toxic chemicals underscores the importance of stringent environmental regulations and workplace safety measures. While awareness of these risks has led to some regulatory progress, ongoing vigilance, and innovation are essential to mitigate exposure and protect public health. 

    By tackling these challenges preemptively, we can strive to lessen the impact of cancer caused by industrial toxic chemicals in today’s society.