A report released earlier this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sounded the alarm about the pervasive presence of the pesticide Atrazine in our waterways. As the NRDC points out,
The effects associated with atrazine have been documented extensively. Reproductive effects have been seen in amphibians even at low levels of exposure. Concentrations as low as 0.1 ppb, for example, have been shown to alter the development of sex characteristics in male frogs, resulting in male frogs with female sex characteristics and the presence of eggs in male frog testes. Some scientists are concerned about exposure for children and pregnant women, as small doses could impact development of the brain and reproductive organs. Research has also raised concerns about atrazine’s “synergistic” affects, showing potential for the chemical having a multiplier affect to increase toxic affects of other chemical co-contaminants in the environment.
Atrazine has been shown to cause mammary cancer in lab rats. Recent data suggest that the major mechanism by which atrazine exerts its endocrine disrupting effects is by increasing the activity of the enzyme aromatase. Aromatase facilitates the conversion of testosterone and other androgens to estrogens, including estradiol.
Apparently, this pathway of estrogen production is of great enough importance to the development of breast cancer that a current class of breast cancer drugs aims to block this activity of aromatase. Femara (Letrozole) is one of these drugs. It knocks out aromatase, which in turn reduces estrogen and keeps breast cancer cells from growing initially.
The maker of atrazine is Syngenta, a multi-national agrichemical corporation. Syngenta was formed in 2000, when another multi-national called Novartis merged their Crop Protection and Seeds businesses with Astra Zeneca’s Agrochemicals. What is interesting and very disturbing, he argues, is that Novartis is also the producer of Femara, the breast cancer drug discussed above.
Got that? Novartis both sells a chemical that is linked to the development of breast cancer and sells a drug that is used to treat breast cancer. Ditto Astra Zeneca which makes Tamoxifen and is the founding sponsor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Mighty damned convenient to use one of your products to produce a need for another of your products. And very, very profitable.
I’ve lost count of the times I have written about this, but particularly in light of the current healthcare debate, it is a crucial point:
We will not ‘cure’ breast cancer until we quit causing it.
Not only do companies that produce cancer-causing products commit grievous harm to the health and lives of too many people, they contribute significantly to the cost of healthcare. If we are truly serious about improving our health, and lowering the costs of maintaining it, we need to confront the sickening dichotomy between profit and the common good.
And yes, I used that pepto-pink font for a reason–National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a little more than a month away–we are more than aware of this disease already–this year let’s quit with the cutesy pink already and insist that addressing the cause become an integral part of finding a cure.