Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Can This Fish Save Pittsburgh?

When I interviewed her last year, biologist Sandra Steingraber called exposure to environmental carcinogens “the human rights issue of our times.” Demonstrating her skill with a sound bite, she said our children deserve “breast milk free of rocket fuel” along with clean air and water. Steingraber has the passion of a mother as well as that of a cancer survivor.

Recently she spoke in Pittsburgh as a guest of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Center for Environmental Oncology (CEO). This multidisciplinary team works “to identify controllable or avoidable causes of cancer linked with the environment.”

It seems to me Pittsburgh is the perfect place for that work. Growing up there I was completely aware of environmental toxins. The steel mills were still belching sulphurous fumes and we were skeptical of the quality of the water in all of the landmark three rivers. Which is why a finding published recently in Scientific American is not a big surprise. "Bringing Cancer to the Dinner Table: Breast Cancer Cells Grow Under Influence of Fish Flesh" reports a novel experiment wherein pureed Pittsburgh river fish spurred the growth of in vitro, estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells.

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, CEO director Devra Lee Davis said, "We think that the main factors (contributing to cancer) are the environmental exposures a person receives over a lifetime." Looks like we may want to add her local rivers’ fish to the list.

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