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August 13, 1977 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1977-08-13

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Saturday, August 13, 1977

PogeSixTHE W1-IGAND~iY Sturdy, ugus 13197

Cancer: The chemical catastrophe

REtENTI G' (o FV EV R N O R Milliken
approved a hill lowering the accept-
able level of polyhrominated biphenyls
(PBRs) in meat to twenty parts per bil-
lion, what er is say is the lowest de-
tectable level. .
"That's nice, b-t 'hree years too late,"
says Dr. Thomas Corbett, formerly' a
clinical investigi-tor at the Veterans Ad-
ministration, and n5(w working at the
Wayne County general Hospital. "We've
already eaten np most of the problem."
Dr. Corbett was one of the first people
to realize the danger when a fire retar-
dant called Firemaster was accidentally
mixed into cattle and animal feed, con-
taminating millions of Michigan cattle,
pigs, sheep, and chickens. The fire retar-
dant was found to contain cancer causing
agents, and Dr. Corbett's experiments
proved that it could cause birth defects
and liver tumors in laboratory mice.
Through all this, however, the sick ani-
mals continued to be sold, and now there
are more contaminated cattle on the
market today, 22 per cent, than ever
THE PBB PROBLEM is more than a
crusade to Dr. Corbett. In 1974 he found
out that his brother and sister-in-law
were raising chickens the previous owner
had fed with contaminated feed.
Dr. Corbett described the birds as "the
most miserable creatures I had ever
seen." He told his brother to stop eating
the chickens' eggs, and eventually the
birds were destroyed. Luckily, both Dr.
Corbett's brother and his wife were vege-
tarians, and even though they ate the
eggs of the contaminated chickens, the
PBB levels in their bodies, later checked,
were six times less than the average
person's in Michigan.
Dr. Corbett's own PBB level' is aver-
age, but he takes good care of himself.
He has six rules of decreasing the risks
of cancer (To be found in more detail
in his book, Cancer and Chemicals) and
he follows most of them.
THE FIRST IS location of residence.
Any highly indus'rialized area is a high
risk cancer area. However, Dr. Corbett
warns that even small towns can be dan-
gerous. Painesville, Ohio, is one such
place where vinyl chloride, a cancer
causing chemical is made, and the beau-
tiful western shore of Lake Superior is
contaminated by asbestos in the drinking
water. (A person interested in moving
to a low risk area is advised to consult
the Atlas of Cancer Mortality for U.S.
Counties: 1950-1969, although since 1969
the picture will have changed slightly
with each factory and coal mine that has

cattle, that causes cancer in humans.'
PERSONAL HABITS can be deadly,
too. Those who are addicted to smoking
and alcohol know there.-are risks, but
even sex has its hazards. Women should
be wary of birth control pills, because of
their many side effects, including cancer.
As many factory workers have found
out, with tragic results, occupation is
another major factor in the occurance
of cancer. Workers in insulating mate-
rials, the sanding of floor tiles, rust-
proofing of automobiles, and the produc-
tion of steel all have higher risk of get-
ting cancer. A good rule of thumb is to
keep away from jobs that put a worker
in too close c o n t a c t with too many
MANY CONSUMER liroducts aren't
adequately tested before being put on
the market. Dr. Corbett uses styrofoam
cups as a prime example. "When you
drink coffee from a styrofoam cup,
you're drinking styrofoam and other
things, too." And food packaged in. poly-
vinyl containers (like the plastic wrap-
ping on meats, and, until recently, alco-
holic beverages) could be dangerous.
Breathing in aerosol fumes should be
avoided, too.
Oddly enough, your family, doctor can
be hazardous to your health. A doctor
can prescribe a medicine with undesir-

rules "pretty much, except I still live in
Michigan." Michigan, compared with
other regions of the country, is a high
risk area, and he admits considering
leaving it. "But you have to accept cer-
tain risks." He didn't take the risk, how-
ever, of eating PBB contaminated beef,
as soon as he heard about it, and he has
his own well, rather than drink city
water. He doesn't smoke, and drinks only
Unfortunately, starting as an anesthe-
siologist at the University of Michigan
Medical Center, he has had to breath
fumes now known to be very harmful. In
the late sixties, he noticed that the fumes
he was breathing from his work were
being absorbed into his body. He wonder-
ed if the headaches he sometimes got
were caused by anesthetics. In a medical
library, he discovered that anesthesiolo-
gists had more headaches, fatigue, and
in women, more misscarriages and de-
formed c h it d r en than they normally
CORBETT BEGAN to worry, not only
for himself, but for his family, and
started taking precautionary measures in
his work that were laughed at or scorned
by the rest of the hospital staff.
In 1971 he became chief of anesthesiol-
ogy at the Veteran's Administration Hos-
pital, and was able to do authorized re-
search. This research indicated that one
or more anesthetics were causing cancer

he suspected the company would try to
sneak the drug through the Food and
Drug Administration before he could
send them the results of his experiment.
Meanwhile, the company, still confi-
dent of getting FDA approval, was dis-
tributing party hats with the drug's name
on them, for the promotional campaign,
At the time Dr. Corbett's book was writ-
ten, the FDA was still studying the mat-
ter, and the company had cancelled the
second publicity campaign. Now Corbett
reports that the FDA has required the
company to retest the drug.
Dr. Corbett is still conducting studies
on PBB and anesthetics, and his next
book, PBB, The Poisoning of Michigan,
will be coming out soon. It covers the
entire PBB scandal in detail, which is
only dealt with in one chapter of Cancer
and Chemicals. The doctor hopes the
general public will read Cancer and
Chemicals, a clearly written book ex-
plaining the dangers our technical so-
ciety puts us in.
"Shortly after bacteria were discover-
ed, people had a hard time accepting the
relationship between bacteria and di-
seases. We're in that same period now
in the relationship between chemicals
and cancer. I wrote the book to inform
people of this relationship so they can
protect themselves individually and pro-
tect society as a whole."
Book Brief
Michael Koerner, The Fool's Climbing
Guide To Ecuador and Peru: A Work
of Fiction and Plagiarism, Buzzard
Mountaineering, 92 pages with maps
and illustrations, $2.
If you are traveling to Ecuador, or
know someone who is, or if mountaineer-
ing is what you do for fun, invest in a
copy _ or two of The Fools Climbing
Guide. Dr. Koerner has collated survival
information not only for competent
climbers who are tackling the slopes of
Latin America, but for gringos who are
passing through Quito as well.
Cautions: The Peru section of the
Guide consists solely of, "Peru, they
tell me, has some excellent climbing . .
So find another information source for
Peru-Dr. Koerner includes a bibliogra-
For a physician, Dr. Koerner is re-
markably cavalier about' Montezuma's
Revenge and other parasitic woes. He
didn't object to being delirious and bed-
ridden for better than a week, laid up by
something he calls "The Black Runs,"
and he doesn't believe anyone else will
object either. If you're not so blase about
diarrhea, consult a sympathetic physi-
cian. Dr. Koerner's advice about prob-
lems other than intestinal bugs seems
sound enough.
In addition to its apparent sufficiency
as a how-to book, The Fool's Climbing
Guide is a gem of prose style. Those al-
lergic to banana republics and moun-
tains can still enjoy such passages as:
Carry your ax. Not only will it serve
as a crutch, a chair, and make you look
manly (sic), but it is an excellent wea-
pon against dogs,
who, according to Dr. Koerner, roam
the paramos in search of gringo climbers
to chew on.
The Fool's Climbing Guide is available
locally at Bivouac, The Sportsman in Bir-
mingham, and Benchmark at 10 Mile and
Middlebelt. Or,if you're serious about all
this, mail your two bucks along with
questions and commentary to:
Michael Koerner
504 Willets Hill
Birmingham, MI 48009
and Dr. Koerner will respond personally.
Best wishes.


and miscarriages in the Michigan nurse-
anesthetists questioned, and birth defects
in their children.
Thus, Dr. Corbett became the leader
in a fight to keep an anesthetic called
insoflurane, produced by an Ohio com-
pany, off the market. He conducted ex-
periments exposing mice to insoflurane
and the results were dramatic, although
the experiment hadn't been designed to
furnish positive proof of the gas's car-
cinogenicity. The mice began to develop
liver, lung and uterine tumors.
The company producing insoflurane,
Ohio Medical Products, was called; they
seemed concerned, but didn't want to
halt their plans. Eventually they can-
celled a big promotional campaign be-
cause of Corbett's findings, and asked to
meet with him. They listened to the re-
sults of his test, but considered the find-
ings too preliminary.
bett's findings grew considerably posi-
tive as his mice continued to die. But

The second is diet. Not only do many
of the foods we eat contain cancer caus-
ing agents, but if one of these agents is
banned, it may be replaced by a chem-
ical that is not necessarily safer, but
merely untested.

able side effects he doesn't even know
about, because they haven't been tested
for carcinogenicity (ability to cause can-
cer). Most doctors won't ask a patient
when the last time he had an X-ray
taken was, and although X-rays save

Dr. Corbett advises against eating pro- lives, unnecessary X-raying should be
cessed meats containing sodium nitrite, avoided.
like hot dogs and ham. Beef liver may
contain DES, a hormone used to fatten DR. CORBETT SAYS he follows his

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