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Worth repeating …

By Lorna Wilson

The follow text is from a presentation by Lorna Wilson to a workshop: Everyday Carcinogens – Stopping Cancer Before It Starts, held at McMaster University, March 26, 1999.

I am one of nine employees who were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. We were told that this phenomenon was a”true cancer cluster”‘ but either ”we all have incredibly bad luck” or it was just a mere coincidence.”

Epidemiologists have identified certain conditions that should be considered before reporting a suspected cancer cluster; it is more likely to be a true cluster if it involves a large number of one type of cancer, a rare type of cancer, or a number of cancer cases in age groups not usually affected by that type of cancer. These situations are likely to indicate a common source or mechanism. All of these conditions apply to our cluster.

The cluster in Hamilton is not the coincidence it appears to be. How can it be a coincidence when a number of other Bell offices have a high cancer incidence also without explanation?

It defies logic.

After our story appeared in Chatelaine Magazine, several Bell employees wrote to me to report similar situations at their work locations. The following Bell offices have reported large numbers of cancer cases: Hamilton, St. Catharine’s, London, Sarnia, Brantford, Oshawa, Simcoe St. (Toronto), Adelaide St. West (Toronto), Pacific Bell, Bell Atlantic and Southern Bell. But only the Hamilton Office has been investigated and determined to be a true cluster.

Could it be the way they conduct their business instead of the way we lived our lives?

Trish Balon, Maureen Steeves and I had none of the known risk factors for breast cancer but what we did have in common was we were all hired by Bell within the same year and all worked on the third floor, using the same type of computer equipment in confined working conditions. We were all diagnosed between November 1994 and January 1996.

All the EMF testing done on the third floor took place after more than half of all the employees & their equipment had left the building. It was a Snapshot in time that did not reflect the previous eight years working conditions.

Minutes of a meeting which took place at a Bell office in Toronto in 1998 said there was “money budgeted to do the EMF testing once the positions are re-arranged and new equipment is in place on the floor.” Unfortunately, this action will prevent a lead to answer for future cancer cases.

The Bell minutes also state that technicians were moved to a newly renovated surveillance centre but that the workstation images were not stable in various locations. “It was discovered that the EMF levels were higher than acceptable due to two Toronto Hydro transformers and the cabling running into the building along the south wall. The technicians were moved out of the area.”

I would recommend that all employees record the time spent and machine number for each piece of equipment they use throughout the day.

By placing all electrical equipment one metre apart it would reduce employee exposure to EMFs dramatically. Distance is the only way to avoid EMF exposure. It is not costly and it is very easy to do. This is known as the”prudent avoidance approach.”

I was exposed to 27 milligauss (mG) of radiation and Maureen Steeves, my co-worker who died in October 1997 was exposed to even higher levels. Trish Balon’s position was removed from the building before any testing was done, so we will never know for sure what level Trish was exposed to.

In the media our office was portrayed as a normal office environment even though the EMF levels were not”normal background levels” which according to Dr. Pathak of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety is 2mG or less. Dr. Pathak said that anything over 2 mG is considered exposed and that there is no such thing as safe exposure.

I ask the media to take a more responsible role in the way they report the facts. On a number of occasions the media printed that “readings have been within acceptable Industry standards” but there are no standards in Canada for EMF exposure. Another media quote is”there is no proof that EMFs cause cancer” the fact is there is also no proof that it doesn’t. This type of reporting leads the public into a false sense of security by implying there is no problem so no action is necessary.

Science is not perfect and just because the cause is not known does not mean a cause does not exist. Unknown does not equal coincidence. Once again the public should be encouraged to take a prudent avoidance approach.

When smokers started getting lung cancer at twice the rate of non-smokers, the Government stepped in and made tobacco companies put warning labels on their products. There was

No proof, only suspicion.

According to Dr. Gilles Theriault, we got breast cancer at ten times the rate as could be expected in a group our size and yet it is just a coincidence because there is no proof. I think it is time that electrical equipment which produces EMFs of 2 mG or more, should be required to have a warning sticker.

It is also time to quit blaming the victims for hazardous environments they have no knowledge of and no control over.

When I asked Bell management to move the equipment at least one metre apart, I was told NO because they are not legislated to do so. We cannot legislate common sense.

I received a letter from a senior claims adjudicator which said “For every study published which suggests a possible relationship, there is another study which refutes the suggested relationship.”

According to the operational policy, under Benefit of Doubt, it states”in determining any claim under the Act, the decision shall be made in accordance with the real merits and justice of the case. Where it is not practical to determine an issue because the evidence for or against the issue is approximately equal in weight, the issue shall be resolved in favour of the claimant.” In my opinion, this adjudicator’s statement confirms an equal weight of evidence in the EMF debate. To back up my opinion, I refer to the Assessment of Health Effects from Exposure to Power-Line Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields, Working Group Report.

This report represents the views and expert opinions of the Working Group which met in June, 1998. The Working Group was organized by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences with support of the EMF Research and Public Information Dissemination program through the United States Department of Energy and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National institutes of Health.

After reviewing the literature and asking the Working Group members to vote on the carcinogenicity, the Working Group concluded that ELF/EMF are possibly carcinogenic to humans. This evaluation was supported by 19 members of the Working Group; 8 members considered the evidence as not classifiable, 1 member considered that the evidence was probably not carcinogenic to humans, and 1 member abstained from the vote. Clearly, more than one half of the experts debating the EMF issue, felt there was enough evidence to say that EMFs were possibly carcinogenic to humans.

I ask anyone in a position to initiate change in Canadian policy, to recommend that EMFs be considered a probable human carcinogen as recommended by the Working Group.

My cancer was not genetic, nor could it be based on the known risk factors. It could however be something in my environment, which includes my working environment, even if the cause is unknown. You must consider the amount of time I spent at work in an exposed EMF situation. I strongly feel that my cancer was preventable and therefore should be compensable.

It has been three years since I filed for compensation. I have been denied at all stages. It is only a matter of time before this issue is resolved because the evidence is mounting in our favour.

I believe that cancer clusters are nature’s way of saying something is wrong. If we start spending significant monies on primary prevention, we might be able to stop this epidemic. We need to encourage industry, through incentive programs, to”go green”. In the long run, it will mean more money for industry and a cleaner environment for all.

Trish Balon, Joel Carr and I co-founded a group called the Safe Electromagnetic Environment Committee (SEEC). Our purpose was to provide information to schools so they could identify high EMF locations and take corrective action to ensure a healthy working environment for the teachers and our children. Helen Detwiler School was the first to act on our suggestions. The Hamilton-Wentworth School Board was the first to address our concerns and agree to work with us. Another major issue for SEEC is the Computer for Schools Program.

This program takes used office equipment from government and industry and donates it to schools. Our concern is that this equipment is not being tested for EMF exposure levels before being given to our children. The members of SEEC request that everyone take a look at the computer situations within your children’s Schools and ask the school to observe the one metre apart recommendation. Also make sure that computers are never placed back to back.

Also in this issue on An Ounce …