(EnviroNews Utah) – Salt Lake City – In a press conference at the state capitol on Feb. 13, 2014, Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment lambasted the Utah Department of Health’s recently released Stericycle and Cancer study and the representation of that study in the media.
“The Health Department has misinterpreted their own data,” says Moench.
One concern that Moench raised was the fact that the study does not take into account enough time. Solid tumors can take decades to form, and Stericycle has only been operating at that site for about 24 years with the neighborhoods being built up around it about 10 years ago.
“Cancers often have latency periods of 15 to 20 years,” says Tom Hudachko, public information officer for the Utah Department of Health, “so that’s certainly one of the limitations in this study.”
The study found that the people living in the area of Stericycle tend to have better health habits and more access to health care than the rest of Utah’s population, yet they experienced a higher rate of colon cancer, bone and joint cancer, and cutaneous melanoma in men and women as well as higher rates of anal cancer and breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men.
The study’s conclusion was that these cancers were from poor lifestyle choices and not the environment, and that those living in the area would do well to follow healthier habits and get screened for cancers as recommended by their personal physicians.
Moench found that assertion “medically indefensible” and “offensive”:
“For our health department to say there’s no correlation between colon or rectal cancer and pollution, is simply, utterly, medically indefensible. In addition to being wrong, I hope that the Health Department understands that their statement ‘these types of cancers are highly preventable through better lifestyle choices’ is deeply offensive to victims of those types of cancer. I’m one of those victims as are seven of my immediate family members. None of us have made poor lifestyle or high risk choices, and we find that comment scientifically absurd and personally offensive, as do hundreds of people who are victims of those kinds of cancers who have said ‘what in the world is the Health Department trying to perpetrate?’”
Community organizer Alicia Connell took exception to the health department’s insinuation that the elevated cancer rates were due to lifestyle choices.
Connell held up several examples of children who had experienced cancer of one form or another, including 7-year-old Brendan, and Cami of “Kisses for Cami,” who has now gone through 2 and a half years of chemotherapy and has had her leukemia return.
“It wasn’t her lifestyle choice,” says Connell. “She never smoked a cigarette.”
While looking on to the relatively small group of news and media personalities who had congregated in front of the Governor’s office, Moench added this baffling statistic:
“The World Health Organization considers 80-90% of cancer as environmentally caused.”
He also pointed out that one of the main problems with the study is that it compares a small population to a larger population that is also affected by the pollution from Stericycle.
Even so, given the lifestyle choices of those in South Davis County, one would expect cancer cases to be lower than the population at large. The targeted population smokes less, drinks less, participates in more leisure time physical activities, eats more vegetables and is overall thinner.
“The Utah Stericycle cancer study does not change the debate in any way,” says Moench. “For many of these compounds [like lead], there is no level of safe exposure” according to the Center for Disease Control.
While this study focused only on cancer rates, another concern is Utah’s 1 in 32 autism rate for boys making it the second highest known autism rate in the entire world, taking a back seat only to South Korea. Stericycle is one of the largest emitters of mercury and other heavy metals in the state, and a recent study out of Harvard has demonstrated that as high as two thirds of autism cases may carry environmental catalysts. Moench had this to say in regards to what he summed up as a derelict Utah Department of Health:
“For our state government, including the Health Department to ignore our alarming autism epidemic, and then to not even consider the possible connection between Stericycle’s smokestack and autism is unconscionable, and a clear dereliction of their duty to protect public health. To summarize: This study was mischaracterized by some in the media as a ‘clean bill of health’ for Stericycle. The Health Department authors drew conclusions from this study that are entirely unwarranted — the governor has no basis for preferentially using this study for policy making while ignoring a much vaster body of research that contradicts it.”
The Utah Department of Health plans to issue reports on birth defects and soil samples from the area in late April.