Cancer in the Supermarket

The average consumer innocently and trustingly shops for goods in the supermarket presuming them to be more or less what they claim to be. Perhaps they may be aware that some of the claims a product makes about its effectives, taste, etc are an exaggerated advertising ploy. But are they aware that many products contain ingredients that are proven cancer risks?

Cancer is a major health concern for most people, yet they remain unaware that they may be putting themselves at risk every day. Most consumers would assume that government labelling laws would be enforced to warn the public of any potential health hazards. These laws, however, are far from adequate.
Consumers need to educate themselves of the risks, because the regulatory bodies are not going to do it for them. The public then has the power to influence industry by wisely spending their shopping dollar on the products they know are safe or safer.

Many people are aware that their diet isn’t perfect. But even eating fish and unprocessed food does not mean you are avoiding many dangerous substances linked to cancer and birth defects. Would you still give your children hotdogs if you knew that many contained nitrite preservatives which are precursors of carcinogenic nitrosamines. Children who consume these hotdogs about a dozen times per month have up 4 times more chance of developing brain cancer and a 7-fold excess risk of leukaemia.*

Pesticides are also a major source of contamination for many foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, all foods we consider the healthiest, may well be contaminated with pesticides used in their production or even waxing.

There is also a wide range of animal drugs, industrial and chemical residues to be found in the food we eat every day. There are as many as 40 of the animal drugs and pesticides, known to occur as residues in meat and poultry that are carcinogens. * How is it possible that these alarming findings are not more widely known? The fact is that the many reports and studies done remain largely ignored by the policy makers in the U.S. The use of pesticides and chemicals is not on the decrease as one would hope in the light of many reports demonstrating their toxicity. Over the last 25 years in the U.S. pesticide use has increased 125 per cent.

The list of carcinogenic contaminants seems endless. Dr Epstein lists 30 carcinogenic contaminants commonly found in food and beverages.* Consumers are told that there is no cause for concern by the authorities. How many people would be unconcerned if they knew the facts? The regulatory systems are in place to support industry not consumer health.

Food is not the only area of concern. Water and food packaging have many carcinogenic concerns surrounding them. We are also under threat in homes from household products. There are a vast number of synthetic petrochemical products in everyday use since World War II. Six hundred of the seventy thousand chemical compounds are known to cause cancer.* One would expect these chemicals to be banned from household items where there is surely no need for them and there are safer alternatives. However this is not being done.

Cosmetics and toiletries are another area of major concern. These are products we put directly on our skin. It is now widely accepted that the skin is not the impenetrable barrier it was once believed to be. (for example many medications are placed in patches on the skin) Many of the ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics are systemic. (able to be absorbed into the organs of the body)
Not only do the ingredients that have been intentionally added pose a potential health hazard, but the fact that many products contain contaminants or the ingredients combinations may react to form potentially dangerous substances yet another major concern. There are never any warning labels mentioning the fact that ingredients are carcinogenic, neurotoxic or teratogenic. (affecting the foetus).

Again this is an industry that is poorly regulated. Manufacturers lack adequate data on safety tests.
Many manufactures are not even registered.
884 of the chemicals available for use in cosmetics have been reported to the U.S. government as toxic substances.*

Look in every supermarket and you will find popular brands of personal care products and toiletries contain one of any number of carcinogenic ingredients.

There are a number of categories of ingredients that pose a concern.

Formaldehyde is an irritant, sensitiser, carcinogen and neurotoxin. It is formed or broken down from a number of preservatives that are added to cosmetics and personal care products. Some examples of these preservatives are: 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol, Diazolidinyl urea, and Quaternium 15.

Nitrosamines are another dangerous element in personal care products and are mostly carcinogenic. They are formed in products that contain Nitrites. Nitrites are sometimes used as a preservative or can be present as contaminants. DEA and TEA and PABA are some of the ingredients which may be nitrosamine forming. It is difficult to know which products that contain these ingredients will actually contain nitrosamines. The safest option is to stay away from these ingredients and any products that contain them. This will make it clear to the cosmetic industry that the public do consider safety an important factor.

Contaminants in products are a source of carcinogenic ingredients. 1,4-dioxane is a carcinogen that can contaminate products. It is most likely to be found in ingredients containing the word, prefix or syllable PEG, eth (as in sodium laureth sulfate) or oxynol.

Talc is one product that many people would presume is harmless. After all we use it on baby’s bottoms. Yet it has become widely recognised that it causes ovarian cancer. Caution should be taken in using talc in the genital area. It may also be inhaled in powdered cosmetics and thereby also poses a risk.

One of the most worrying items in the personal care area is Hair dyes. There are many carcinogenic ingredients, contaminants and precursors in permanent and semipermanent hair colour products. This is particularly true for black and dark brown colours. The cancer hazard for these products is extremely high. There is evidence to suggest that up to 20 percent of all cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in U.S. women can be attributed to the use of hair- colour products*.

Many people are aware of the allergic nature of fragrances or get headaches around perfumes. But it is not widely known that synthetic fragrances are made up of hundreds of chemicals, some of them carcinogenic. Again the consumer is not protected by any legislation nor is there any attempt on the part of most manufactures’ to inform the public of the potential hazards.

In all these circumstances it is up to the consumer to become aware of the many dangers they face when innocently shopping. There is not any accountability on the part of the government or the manufacturer’s. Any claim that cancer was caused by personal care items would be a very difficult case to win. Unfortunately the buck stops with us as consumers. The people we have to help us are those who choose to educate the public and dedicate themselves to cancer prevention. Armed with this information we can vote with our shopping dollar which will send a clear message to those manufacturers who are slow to heed the message that the public has a right to buy products that are free of all known toxic ingredients.

* “The Politics of Cancer Revisited” by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. 1998.

International Leading Authority on the Causes and Prevention of CancerSamuel S Epstein, M.D. is emeritus Professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He has published some 260 peer reviewed articles, and authored or co-authored 10 books including: the prize-winning 1978 The Politics of Cancer; the 1995 Safe Shoppers Bible; the 1998 Breast Cancer Prevention Program; the 1998 The Politics of Cancer, Revisited and the 2001 Unreasonable Risk, How to Avoid Cancer from Cosmetics and Personal Care Products.

Dr Epstein is an internationally recognized authority on avoidable causes of cancer, particularly unknowing exposures to industrial carcinogens in air, water, the workplace, and consumer products—food, cosmetics and toiletries, and household products including pesticides—besides carcinogenic prescription drugs.

Dr Epstein has a website dedicated to cancer prevention
To order his book: The Politics of Cancer, Revisited. 1998. Ph (U.S.) 1 914 887 6467
Fax (U.S.) 1 914 887 5982

Dr Epsetin can be seen on the; Hope & Beauty (video & DVD) and the Your Health, Your Future (video & DVD)