Well-worn platitiudes to explain
cancer rates don't suffice

Special to the Courier & Press
January 25, 2002

Upon reading the Page One story of Jan. 20, reporting the comments of Indiana State Department of Health epidemiologist Bob Teclaw regarding the cancer situation in the state of Indiana, my first thoughts were of my brother-in-law, Jim Nelson.

To recap, Teclaw predictably attributed the escalating incidents of cancer in this state to the usual canard we have heard from state and local health official for years: "We tend to smoke more than the rest of the nation. We don't eat well, and we don't exercise." To this simplistic explanation of the situation I offer one word: Balderdash!

My sister's husband is currently undergoing intense chemotherapy for an inoperable tumor discovered several months ago. The year before, he was operated on for colon cancer. We had hoped that the surgery would have solved his ailments, but, sadly, we were mistaken.

Pondering the story that discussed the creation of a new Cancer Consortium to develop a statewide plan to prevent the incidence of cancer in this state, I called Jim, and his reaction was the same as mine. He urged me to write something about this -- so this message is as much from him as it is from me.

You see, Jim has never smoked, never drank alcoholic beverages in excess and as a 20-year veteran of the Naval Reserve, has always tried to keep himself physically fit and eat a balanced diet. In grave sadness, our family continues to wonder what actually caused his cancer. We have no answers, and neither do the doctors.

To Teclaw and virtually anybody else who harbors concern about the growing cancer epidemic in this state: We are sick and tired of your simplistic, insulting explanations about the causes of cancer afflicting our residents.

For years, environmentalists and concerned citizens have been preaching to anyone who will listen that we here in Indiana have some of the highest levels of industrial toxic chemical releases into the atmosphere, second only to the state of Texas among all 50 states (for the specifics, check out www.scorecard.org online). The two largest Indiana culprits are General Electric (GE) Plastics in Mount Vernon and the Flexible Foam Co. in Elkart. Both are among the top 20 carcinogenic chemical point sources in the entire nation.

Indeed, with more than 10 million pounds of chemical releases statewide, according to industry self-reported data, these corporate polluters put out roughly 2 times that of all the industrial facilities the entire state of California.

We continue to wonder what moral right these huge corporate polluters have to continue to poison the air we breathe? Indeed, GE spews into the air over 2 million pounds of carcinogenic chemicals every year, roughly 18 miles upwind of the fourth-largest population center in this state.

We are forced to ask, when will this company get about the business of reducing these chemical emissions to zero?

No individual or small business would be allowed to do these things. Neither should GE or any other manufacturer - no matter how many value-added jobs it contributes to the local economy.

If public health officials such as Teclaw want to get to the bottom of why our cancer rates are so high, they should start by abandoning the well-worn explanations we have heard for years. They and their political bosses should also begin to acknowledge what all too many of us already know - this insidious industrial pollution is a serious threat to all of us.

In all honesty, they owe us all - including my brother-in-law, Jim Nelson - an apology for their glib, simplistic explanations. They, along with state environmental and elected officials, also owe us an explanation for why they continue to ignore this very real public health threat that continues unabated.

David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer. 
His email address is oldcars55@aol.com