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Public deprived of data on cancer links to toxins - film maker

Tom Levitt

13th September, 2010

Director of 'The Idiot Cycle' claims people are being kept in the dark over the dangers posed by toxins in everyday life - and questions the murky links between UN, WHO and chemical companies

Links between chemical companies and institutions like the WHO and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) are depriving consumers of independent information on cancer risks, film maker Emmanuelle Schick Garcia has claimed.

In an exclusive interview with The Ecologist, Schick Garcia, director of 'The Idiot Cycle' - a major expose on the chemical industry - said ‘subtle’ conflicts of interest, such as a Bayer Cropscience consultant sitting on an IARC advisory group while also chairing one on benzene research for the American Petroleum Institute, made it difficult for people to trust their advice.

The petroleum sector is one of the largest emitters of benzene, a known carcinogen.

‘The United States has yet to classify formaldeyde as a carcinogen. Why? Koch Industries, which is a huge producer of formaldeyde in the United States, lobbied to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from classifying it as such. The company is run by two brothers, and they've donated millions to Sloan-Kettering, MIT Cancer research, John Hopkins University... and in 2004 Koch was named to the National Cancer Advisory Board (part of the National Cancer Institute).

‘So all these 'public' entities are receiving very large donations from one of America's biggest carcinogen polluters,’ she said.

Pollution pays


The outspoken film maker also said chemical companies were benefiting from cleaning up environmental damage rather than avoiding it in the first place.

‘Take the environmental "cleaning" industry. Many [sic] of the contamination is being cleaned up by the same companies (with public money) that created the contamination in the first place (because they didn't do sufficient testing before unleashing their chemical, asbestos, etc.). So corporations profit twice.

‘It's idiotic that we keep letting this go on. Same cycles, different products,’ she said.

Schick Garcia urges people wanting to avoid exposure to chemicals in their everyday life to become self-sufficient and not rely on cleaning agents, even products labelled as 'natural' or 'organic'.

Cancer Research UK responded to the claims by stating that the links between chemicals and cancer were difficult to evaluate.

‘There is clear evidence that some things in our environment can cause cancer, including second-hand smoke, ultraviolet radiation, asbestos, radon gas and various industrial chemicals,’ said Professor David Phillips, Cancer Research UK's environmental carcinogen expert.

However, he cautioned against concern about all chemicals classified as ‘possibly or probably carcinogenic’ to humans, saying this did not tell us how much risk the public face.

‘To do this is a much more complicated process that has to take into account who is exposed, how, when and by how much,’ said Professor Phillips.

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