Miles O’Brian posts this story to Boing Boing today and an Australian piece regarding cancer clusters. I contrast the ideas here.
Erin Brockovich is now focusing on cancer clusters.
The real-life Erin Brockovich has moved onto the national stage as a consumer advocate and now curates a crowd-sourced map of reported cancer clusters. It is a real eye-opener. And it makes you wonder why environmental regulators don’t do this kind of thing.
A few years ago, The Environmental Working Group did a study of U.S. tap water, and it found a chrome-plated, potentially carcinogenic mess. They tested tap water samples from 35 cities and found chromium-6 in 31 of them.
So, this article paints a scary picture. I don’t have enough information on this topic to have an opinion on what is valid or whether to be outraged or not. But I do have some interest in cancer clusters. Because often, they are no such thing.
Cancer clusters in the USA
via Cancer clusters.
Source: Critical Reviews in Toxicology: Cancer clusters in the USA. What do the last 20 years of state and federal investigations tell us?
+567 suspected cancer cluster sites were studied over the past 20 years.
+In 87 per cent of cases, a true increase in cancer rates could not be established, let alone a cause.
+In only 0.5 per cent of the cancer types was there some evidence of a link between the cancers of concern and the suspected carcinogen.
Clusters are part of randomness. But most people can’t grasp that because it feels wrong. In the case of cancer clusters we are dealing with SO MANY VARIABLES! It’s so difficult to wrap your head around them all – each person’s lifestyle and genetics, the multiple environmental factors, chance. Logic tells us that if there was a “cause”of the cluster, it should sift out of the data analysis. It would be obvious. But that’s not been the result of most investigations. Then, the people involved remain suspicious and concerned, unsatisfied. It’s hard to blame them when there is no clear resolution.
This quote from the SMH article was especially interesting:
Phyllis Butow, professor of psychology at the University of Sydney, is an expert in the psychological impact of disease. She says cancer brings with it a special fear. “Data suggests people catastrophise about risks they see as life-threatening; they search for the threat, in fact, and are more likely to see it,” she says.
“There is a lot of evidence that people find cancer more scary than other diseases [with] just as high mortality rates.”