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
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.