Environmental carcinogens are one of the great hidden risks of our times. We say hidden because, in most cases, people expose themselves unknowingly to these toxic elements and only realize their impact years later when they are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as cancer. Getting informed is essential in order to avoid the risks of environmental carcinogens. With this purpose in mind, we are going to walk you through the basic facts you should know about cancer-causing agents so that you can keep yourself and your beloved ones safe.
What are cancer-causing agents?
Cancer-causing agents are a broad denomination for any type of substance that can cause this disease. We also call these factors carcinogens. Environmental carcinogens are those found in the surrounding environment.
Environmental exposure to carcinogens is usually involuntary and occurs when someone is not aware of the dangerous substances found in the environment where he or she works or lives. For example, veterans who served the military were unknowingly exposed to high levels of asbestos and AFFF, or aqueous film-forming foam, a dangerous fire foam.
Could My Job Pose any Occupational Risks?
There are different industries and jobs that increase the risks of exposure to environmental carcinogens:
Mechanics: exposed to components that contain asbestos which can cause mesothelioma
Construction workers: exposed to asbestos which is present in many old buildings that need to be restored or demolished. They are also exposed to silica.
Miners: these people are also exposed to asbestos but also to uranium or radon; they are at risk of developing brain, stomach, thyroid cancer among others.
Firefighters: exposed to Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that result from burning and that can cause lung cancer. Firefighters are also prone to AFFF exposure, a fire foam cancer-related chemical.
Plastic workers: exposed to different toxic fumes and chemicals such as cadmium which can lead to kidney or liver cancer.
People working in agriculture: due to the massive use of pesticides, they can expose themselves to polychloroprene’s and their sodium salts which can cause brain, liver, breast, gastrointestinal, bladder cancer.
People working in rubber manufacturing: exposed to chemical byproducts that can lead to lymphoma, stomach, bladder or lung cancer.
People working in chemical factories: they are constantly in contact with dangerous substances such as benzidine or acrylamide and have an increased risk of developing different types of cancer such as bladder cancer.
Veterans: are one of the most common occupations with asbestos exposure.
What Do Statistics Say About Environmental Carcinogens?
- Approximately 4% of cancers are caused by environmental exposure
- Since the 80s, it is estimated that approximately 10,000 deaths per year are caused by environmental exposure
- The highest level of exposure to environmental carcinogens occurs on the job, which is known as occupational exposure
- Occupational cancers account for at least 5% of the total number of cancers, causing thousands of deaths per year
- Our law firm, ELG, currently has 975 cases related to environmental exposure in firefighters, and more than 1500 cases to be screened, which highlights how common environmental exposure to chemicals such as those found in AFFF is. We recently released our consumer guide “Guidelines for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances” which contains information about toxins in drinking water.
- From the cases we are currently dealing with, 45% are related to kidney cancer 45% are testicular cancer, and 10% are bladder cancer
How Do Environmental Factors Contribute to Cancer Risk?
After (typically) prolonged exposure to the carcinogens found in the environment, a person can develop different types of cancer because those chemicals accumulate in the body and cause cellular changes.
Here are some of the common environmental carcinogens that have been linked to different types of cancer:
- PCBs – or Polychlorinated biphenyls are organic chemicals encountered on a large scale in the environment. These substances have been used until the 70s to manufacture different products including electrical appliances, coolants, switches, oil-based paint, fluorescent light ballasts, insulators, adhesives. PCB’s can even be found in food as they accumulate in animals and fish. Some of the cancers correlated to this toxic element are breast, liver, gastrointestinal, brain, gallbladder cancer.
- PFAS – a broader class containing substances such as PFOS and PFOAS; these chemicals have a high resistance to heat, water, grease. They can be found in Teflon products, packaging, stain repellents, water repellents, firefighting foam, or aqueous film-forming foam which is related to AFFF exposure. These substances don’t break down and they accumulate in the body. Water contaminated with PFOAS can be a source of environmental exposure. PFAS can lead to liver, thyroid or kidney cancer.
- Dioxin – it can be found in pesticides, herbicides, cigarettes, and also in different types of food including meat, fish or dairy products. It can cause different types of cancer.
How Can I Avoid the Risks of Environmental Exposure to Cancer Agents?
On the one hand, you should rest assured that the authorities such as the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA are taking steps to reduce this type of exposure by establishing quality standards and safe levels of exposure.
However, each person should take active steps to avoid carcinogenic agents firstly by adopting a healthy lifestyle which implies a balanced diet, no tobacco, and physical activity.
Any products that contain one of the above-mentioned chemicals or carcinogens should be avoided.
If your home is a potential source of exposure, you can perform certain tests. For example, you can check the level of radon in your basement.
If you believe your health was affected by environmental carcinogens, you should get checked to see if you have developed any side effects. The cause of your exposure could be the water you drink, the products you use or the air you breathe. The only safe way to avoid any complications is to get tested. Also, keep in mind that if an employer or manufacturer knowingly exposed you to unsafe levels of toxic substances, you might be entitled to claim compensation.
About the author:
Treven Pyles is the administrative director of Environmental Litigation Group, PC., a law firm highly dedicated to helping family members and patients diagnosed with cancer, resulting from an occupational industrial workplace or military personnel.