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the current state of regulation and enforcement of pesticide use in the U.S. ensures that we still consume illegal quantities of legal pesticides, as well as a variety of illegal pesticides either imported from other countries or still cycling through the ecosystem in our own environment. In 1962, Carson likened the federal government’s system of policing pesticides to “deliberately poisoning our food, then policing the result.” As Steingraber observes, the system is essentially the same today. The EPA sets a “tolerance” level for each pesticide already in use, then adjusts these values as ongoing research into a compound’s toxicity or carcinogenicity is completed, sometimes revoking the tolerance altogether. Enforcement consists of spot-checking about 1 percent of the produce sold in the country. In 1993, the National Research Council concluded that the tolerance system was not based primarily on health considerations, but instead on “normal agricultural practices,” and that it may result in insufficient protection for children. The Council recommended switching to a health-based standard. Unfortunately, as Steingraber notes, the decision “is not retroactive to the rest of us.” Manufacturers of suspected carcinogens rely on the same lethal logic and “cigarette science” only recently abdicated by the tobacco companies. Chemical companies argue that until a direct link between a certain chemical and specific incidences of cancer in humans can be conclusively identified, they can’t be expected to voluntarily withdraw their products. Meanwhile research and popular education about the causes of cancer focus on personal behavior particularly dietary issues and genetics \(e.g., whether or not anyone in your tors of whethei someone will get cancer, or why they have it already. No one wants to talk about contamination of our air, water, and food. This includes the medical community Steingraber reports that in all the years she has been treated for cancer, not one doctor has ever inquired about the environmental conditions in which she grew up. And yet the World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all cancers are attributable to environmental causes. In researching Living Downstream, Steingraber uncovered dozens of stories of communities with cancer clusters fighting to confirm their suspicions about ,environmental links to their illnesses while government agencies and suspected polluters either stonewall or endlessly defer their queries. The story of Cape Cod is typical. Year-round residents of Cape Cod suffer from unusually high rates of a variety of cancers. They suspected groundwater contamination from a local military base, as well as pesticide exposure from cranberry bogs, as the most likely causes for their high cancer rates. In the late eighties, a campaign by cancer victims and their neighbors prodded the state of Massachusetts to do two studies, which confirmed the residents’ fears and added a new one. High levels of leukemia and bladder cancer were found in those homes served by a particular kind of plastic-lined water pipe. Installed in the sixties, the pipes had been shedding perchloroethylene the drinking water of these homes. As it turned out, the problem had been discovered in the seventies, and the pipes had been banned in 1980 but nobody told the residents of Cape Cod. When it comes to corporate accountability, the inevitable question is, “Who will tell the people?” A lack of reliable information about cancer rates in the U.S. has hindered our understanding of cancer and the environment, both by concerned citizens and by the professional research community. Cancer is a public health disaster in 1995, about 1.2 million people, or 3400 per day, learned they had cancer. As cited in the book, the incidence of cancer s….4 ,,z ..,,,,.:,,,,,,…\to , ,A…,..,:…sa s t. ,4,,. ,.., \\ Isit0 s , r.,.., ,, 41 ‘.,,,’Vla .ement, t ypified by the’Breast Can res p onse, ‘ that is basically trying to make a that so many women have breast cancer by mar them, whether it’s prosthetic breasts, wigs, hats, mammograms teaching them self-detection by giving them shower cards, and so on…. What you see are companies who are manufacturing carcinogens, who are making money by giving people cancer, and then making another bunch of money by treating it. In your mind the Surgeon General saved thousands of lives by going out on a limb in 1964 with his statement about cigarettes. What will it take to do the same for the chemical industry today? Who will say, “The buck stops here?” At this point, our regulatory system hasn’t caught up with the new science showing us that this is all far more problematic than we imagined when we set up this regulatory system decades ago. So ies withont our consent. And that’s wrong; ‘ atom they don’t ow for sure 4te get- tip ho that’s a form of treSpass. Extending the civil rights metaphor you’ve likened the situation to Itilontgomery before the bus boycott, a movement waiting for a catalyst, a defining moment. What form might such a moment take for the fight over cancer and the environment? I’m not sure that you can ever really predict something like that. But I certainly see signs of a growing national grassroots movement around cancer and the environment. Each little community is fighting its own battle. I’ve been travelling now for months, and I’ve talked to so many leaders of these groups. They’re all fighting the same battles, and they’re starting to talk to each other now. When the crisis point will be reached and what it will be, I don’t know if you can say at this point. 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 30, 1998