People and Beluga Whales: We’re Both In Contaminated Waters

Sunday, April 11, 2010

by Krisy Gathler, ITHICA JOURNAL, April 2, 2010

image The PERC-contaminated water Sandra Steingraber grew up drinking may not have caused her cancer, but it certainly caused somebody’s.

“I’m a sample size of one, so as a biologist, I never say that PERC caused my bladder cancer. What I do say is that when you release bladder carcinogens into the environment, somebody will get bladder cancer, somebody will die. That’s why these things are human rights issues,” she said.

Steingraber, a Trumansburg resident and Ithaca College visiting scholar, was first diagnosed with bladder cancer at 20 years old. As a biology major, Steingraber began studying scientific literature and medical journals and discovered that her particular cancer is “considered kind of a quintessential environmental cancer.”

PERC, or tetrachloroethylene, is the most commonly used dry-cleaning chemical in the country. It’s also been shown to cause bladder, liver and kidney tumors in rats, and it “may reasonably be anticipated” to cause cancer in humans, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

It’s also present in drinking water in Steingraber’s hometown of Pekin, Ill., alongside a human cancer cluster, she said.

Steingraber finished her education and worked as a professor of biology and ecology. Then in 1993, she decided to leave her tenure-track job to write about science and cancer for the public.

“It became kind of apparent to me that we actually know quite a lot about the environmental roots of cancer in the scientific community, but as a patient, you don’t really hear that discussion,” she said. “I felt like maybe it was my job to build a bridge between what we in the scientific community know, and what I know as a biologist, and what patients are told.” [Read rest of story]

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