From Times Community Newspapers

By William (Bill) U.Couzens,

The death of Dana Reeves from lung cancer it is a reminder to us all that life is fragile.

She was a beacon of hope in her leadership in advocating for research for spinal cord injury. But on a less promising note, Dana will also remain a symbol for the unanswered question: How can a non-smoker die of lung cancer?

Was it second-hand smoke that ended Dana’s life?

Or maybe Radon, a colorless, odorless, naturally-occurring radioactive gas that escapes from the soil and rocks. Or asbestos fibers, which if inhaled, may lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma.

According to the National Cancer Institute, it is estimated that there are over 100,000 chemicals commonly used by Americans in household cleaners, solvents, pesticides, food additives, lawn care, and other products. And every year, another 1,000 or so are introduced.

However, our National Toxicology Program only tests between five and 20 suspected carcinogens every year.

With so little information on the individual chemicals relative to cancer, one must also consider the synergistic impact as well of these collective environmental exposures to human health.

What we do know is that our answers must come from sound science, as opposed to the opinions of individuals who might have some other agenda.

According to cancer experts, an estimated two-thirds of all cancers are preventable — which I find perplexing, in light of the fact that we continue to have escalating incidence of cancer, despite the increased rate of cancer cures.

We now have 10 million cancer survivors here. One could assume that if there were an opportunity to reduce the unnecessary and preventable environmental exposures associated with cancer, they would push for it.

The EPA reports an estimated 73,000 children were involved in common household pesticide-related poisonings or exposures in the United States in 2000.

Recently, Virginia has had an influx of additional pesticide application sites, including vineyards. Communities are becoming aware of the sound science relative to the impact on human health caused by pesticide drift.

Placement of pesticide application sites is too important to simply do it at will, without consideration to health-affected communities, like nearby schools. And there are now federal studies for pesticide exposures to farmers and cancer.

Late last year, Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bloxum recommended that localities prohibit pesticide application sites next to schools. Those recommendations can be found today in Virginia’s best practices to reduce drift.

Communities must work and think smarter to reduce the unnecessary and preventable environmental exposures known to cause harm to human health and the environment.

©Times Community Newspapers 2006