The death of a family member through cancer is a tragedy so many families have to face year in and year out, the pain and heartache of witnessing a loved one fight against, and eventually succumb to the cruellest of diseases, is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. On World Cancer Day it is right we spare a thought for every family impacted by cancer, including those currently fighting their own cancer battles.
Prevention is better than cure is an old adage we often hear about cancer, with current preventative strategies mainly focusing on lifestyle choices. Research carried out by Cancer Research UK in 2018 estimated 40% of cancer could be avoided by individuals making lifestyle changes including, reducing alcohol consumption, managing weight, eating healthily etc.
Interestingly, CRUK also include within lifestyle choices avoiding certain substance at work, such as asbestos. This may come as news to the charity but being exposed to carcinogens at work is not a lifestyle choice, it is a workplace reality, one of which workers are often unaware until it is too late and they face a cancer diagnosis.
Of course, the biggest ever occupational cancer scandal and cover up was asbestos.
In 1898, Lucy Deane, a factory inspector compiled a report for her home office bosses highlighting “easily demonstrated dangers to the health of workers”, a report that was to provoke anger amongst owners of asbestos factories but, more crucially, be totally ignored by high ranking decision makers in the Home Office. These warnings were to be repeated in 1909 and 1910.
Over the past 8 years there have been an average of 2523 deaths from asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. In 2020 this was more or less matched by a similar number of lung cancer deaths related to asbestos exposure. Had the Home Office taken heed of the warnings and not waited 101 years until the use of asbestos was banned the modern day asbestos cancer toll would be miniscule compared to the reality, tens of thousands of totally avoidable cancer deaths.
A more recent scandal involves global glyphosate herbicide giant Bayer the manufacturer of weedkiller Roundup, it would appear the unwillingness of the Home Office to take decisive action asbestos all these years ago is now being replicated by the US Environmental Protection Agency in regards to Round up.
An article in the Guardian in August 2022, ‘Popular weedkiller Roundup on trial again as victims demand justice’ highlight the plight of US citizens who believe their cancer is attributable to use the weedkiller.
Manufacturer Bayer has so far, unsurprisingly, chose to rely on EPA advice, discredited following a US appeal court judgement that Roundup is safe for use rather than the contradictory advice from the International Agency for Research on Cancer which classified Roundup ingredient glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, found strong evidence of genotoxicity and a significant association between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to glyphosate.
Bayer’s CEO said at the time about mounting litigation that they “were sufficiently provisioned to deal with the current and future cases”.
There is something absolutely abhorrent and disgusting that multi-national companies can grow war chests to defend litigation, potentially denying justice to many cancer sufferers as a result.
Glyphosate based herbicides are still widely used by local authorities across Scotland.
On World Cancer Day we should commit to removing toxins from our workplaces and communities through strong toxics use reduction action. Removal and substitution has to be the way forward, not relying on the minimum exposure levels and personal protective equipment.
Industrial poisoning should be consigned to history as should occupational cancer, but deregulatory and business friendly Governments, are the barriers are standing in the way of making that a reality.