Earth

Every mountain, every valley, every creek on this Earth is home to creatures, organisms and spirits that have roamed the Earth a good deal longer than we have.

And yet it is we who have been gifted with the power to preserve, destroy, or restore. We are the ones who must choose. What will we create, as our legacy to the future?

 

Ten Ways Industry Can Prevent Cancer

First published in Corporate Knights, June 2005

The Canadian Cancer Society says that 1 to 5% of cancers in women and 5 to 15% of cancers in men can be related to occupational exposure. Others think that 20% of cancer is related to the workplace. If the figure is 10%, that’s 63,000 North Americans who are dying from cancers caused by pollutants in the workplace every year; 172 people a day. Imagine the public reaction if industrial explosions killed 172 people every day of the year. What can industry do to reduce this misery, this daily disaster?

1. Support Your Employees’ Efforts

Many workers who are exposed to vinyl chloride fumes will develop liver cancer; and many of those who are exposed to asbestos will develop lung cancer. Is it any wonder that workers are at the front line of efforts to eliminate carcinogens from the workplace? The Canadian Labour Congress has developed a CLC Preventing Cancer Campaign, and encourages its members start local cancer prevention campaigns. Seek them out, and ask how you can help. See www.canadianlabour.ca

2. Enshrine the Right to Know

At least sixty different occupations pose an increased risk of cancer; but if you are a worker, how do you know what is safe, and what may send you to an early grave? Metalworkers, hairdressers, farmers, firefighters, electrical workers… it’s a long list. The Labour Environmental Alliance Society, based in Vancouver, has made a small start. It is training cleaning workers how to identify carcinogens among their cleaning products, and work to get them replaced with safe alternatives. They have also produced a CancerSmart Consumer Guide, to help the rest of us eliminate toxins from our home and garden products. See www.leas.ca

3. Adopt The Precautionary Principle

 The whole European Union is changing the way it approaches chemicals. Instead of assuming a chemical is safe and waiting for people to succumb to cancer or another illness as evidence that it’s harmful, they are adopting the precautionary principle. Like the doctors’ Hippocratic oath, they are saying “First, do no harm.” When you are introducing new chemicals to your workplace, it pays to be cautious. You’ll be pleased that you did so when the courts start handing down hefty settlements to companies that knowingly expose their workers to hazardous chemicals. See www.sehn.org/precaution.html

4. Embrace Clean Production

People who work in the dry cleaning business have an increased risk of bladder cancer, because of their exposure to perchloroethylene (“perc”). In Victoria, however, Elite Earth-Friendly Dry Cleaners have switched to a system that uses lemon juice and banana oil. Clean production involves seeking out toxins, and substituting them with safe alternatives. Instead of using heavy metals such as cadmium and lead to make paint, for instance, green chemists are making paints from vegetable oils, water repellent coatings that mimic the way a lotus leaf works, and colors based on the biochemistry of butterfly wings. See www.greenchemistry.ca and www.cleanproduction.org

5. Serve Better Food

It’s not just eating more fruit and vegetables that protects us against cancer: it’s eating more organic fruit and vegetables. Organic vegetables contain more salicylic acid than conventionally grown veggies; organic milk contains more vitamin E and antioxidants than regular milk. Because it cares about the health of its workers, Husky Injection Moulding has stopped serving deep fried food and red meat in its workplace cafeterias, and places the emphasis on vegetarian, organic food. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4153951.stm

6. Support Stop Smoking Initiatives

When Sir Richard Doll gave the first clear evidence to the British government in 1956 that smoking caused cancer, a Department of Health committee (chaired by the Treasury) thought about it for a year, and then responded that it would be very serious if smoking was reduced, as they liked people to die off at age 65, since it reduced their pension payments. Let’s hope Canadian companies are not harbouring similar thoughts! As a minimum, ban smoking in the workplace; then go further. Husky Injection Moulding offers all its employees a free smoking cessation program. See www.cvh.on.ca/programs/smokingquitplan.htm

7. Commit Your Company to REACH

The European Union is about to enact a major overhaul of the way is treats chemicals, called REACH: Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, designed to improve protection of human health and the environment by making industry more responsible for the way it tests and manages the risks from toxic chemicals. The US government has been trying to weaken the initiative, but smaller companies are beginning to accept what’s happening, and cleaning up their processes. If you want to sell to Europe, REACH is the new game in town. See www.europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/reach

8. Campaign for a Toxics Use Reduction Act

In 1989, Massachusetts brought in a Toxics Use Reduction Act, which imposes toxics use fees on certain chemicals, and requires companies to submit a Toxics Use Reduction Plan for a list of toxic substances. The income supports a Toxics Use Reduction Institute and other agencies which help companies make the shift to clean production, saving money and more than covering the cost of the fees. Between 1994 and 1997, the amount of carcinogenic chemicals being released to the environment fell by 77% in Massachusetts. This is smart, eco-friendly legislation, which we need in Canada. See www.turi.org

9. Dissociate Your Company From Junk Politics

The US tobacco industry used every trick in the book to persuade us that smoking was safe. The American Chemistry Council, representing leading chemical companies, has campaigned hard to overturn California’s adoption of the precautionary principle, and other environmental regulations. Over the years, many chemical companies have hidden the truth about the products they use. This encourages cancer acceleration, not prevention. See www.pbs.org/tradesecrets

10. Become a Sustainable Company

If we are not consciously shifting to sustainable, eco-friendly business practices, we are contributing to the black hole into which many of our ecosystems are falling. Cancer is a side-effect of unsustainable living, and unsustainable methods of production. Interface, the carpet company, has set a goal to be fully sustainable by 2020, and they’re making good, solid progress. Since 1997, Husky Injection Moulding has eliminated the annual use of 250,000 litres of trichloroethane by converting to water-based washers, and the release of 86 tonnes of VOCs by converting to water-based pains. Who’s going to join them? See www.interfacesustainability.com

Guy Dauncey is writing a new book with Liz Armstrong and Anne Wordsworth called Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic (New Society Publishers, 2006). He is the author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change. www.earthfuture.com