Carcinogens, not bad luck, cause cancer

by Janette Sherman

The twin 20-story Geneva Towers, located just a few minutes away from Candlestick in Visitacion Valley, were imploded on May 16, 1998. Note the dust cloud – laden with toxins – over hundreds of homes. – Photo: Thor Swift, SF Chronicle
The twin 20-story Geneva Towers, located just a few minutes away from Candlestick in Visitacion Valley, were imploded on May 16, 1998. Note the dust cloud – laden with toxins – over hundreds of homes. – Photo: Thor Swift, SF Chronicle

The headline, “Biological bad luck blamed in two-thirds of cancer cases, researchers say,” has received very wide coverage. Tell that to the people living at Hunters Point!

If one ignores chemistry, biology, physics and history, then one might believe it. It matters little whether exposures occur at home, workplace or neighborhood – it is not bad luck, it is exposure to carcinogens, and they are additive and cumulative. Carcinogens are found in common chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and nuclear radiation.

Vogelstein & Tomasetti, the authors of the Johns Hopkins study that prompted the headline, claim that cancer is due to random mutations in cells. Where do they think those mutations originated? A simple Internet search would have provided them with ample information on known carcinogens.

Why did this study get such press coverage? Can it be that prevention of disease interferes with the business of medical (sickness) care?

Hunters Point residents continue to battle for their health, and certainly have the right to ask: What researcher can possibly claim that cancer is the result of bad luck?

Hunters Point is a unique place – it was a major shipbuilding and repair site during World War II, and then a largely minority and poor neighborhood. When I worked there for the Navy Radiological Defense Laboratory in the early 1950s, it was easy to see the clouds of asbestos used in ship repairs.

However, it was impossible to see the radioactive contamination from decommissioning the vessels that were exposed to nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. Hunters Point was declared a Superfund Site in 1989.

Adjacent to Hunters Point is Candlestick Park, the world famous stadium built of reinforced concrete in the beginning of 1958. Lennar, the corporation given rights by San Francisco City Hall to develop both the Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick, has plans to implode – to blow up – the building.

Asbestos, as well as other toxic materials commonly used to build at that time, would rise up in a gigantic dust cloud, only to settle back down on the surrounding residential neighborhood to be breathed by the residents. Yet neither those residents nor the public at large were notified or consulted; permission to implode was not publicized.

Neither those residents nor the public at large were notified or consulted; permission to implode was not publicized.

Hunters Point residents continue to battle for their health, and certainly have the right to ask: What researcher can possibly claim that cancer is the result of bad luck?

Janette D. Sherman, M.D., a physician, toxicologist and author, concentrating on chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects, is consulting editor for “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature,” a comprehensive presentation of all the available information concerning the health and environmental effects of the low dose radioactive contaminants. Originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 for $150, she has had it republished for wide distribution at only $10. See http://janettesherman.com/books/. Dr. Sherman has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness. She can be reached at www.janettesherman.com.