Working together to fight cancer clusters
There has been tremendous discussion about health care in America over recent years. Much of the debate has focused on federal plans to regulate insurance and pharmaceutical corporations on the national level, using the theory that a more responsive medical industry will improve the medical care and quality of life for many Americans. Although this theory has powerful arguments both for and against it, it should not represent the limit of the American government’s ability to make a positive difference in the health and well-being of its citizens.
For example, the identification and amelioration of cancer clusters is a perfect opportunity for health care organizations, government entities and an active citizenry to work together to make America a healthier place.
When citizens take an active part in reporting their health status and major physical challenges to responsible government agencies and watchdog organizations, then these agencies can study patterns of ailments and identify areas that experience unusually high concentrations of particular illnesses or syndromes. These are commonly called cancer clusters, although there are also clusters of other diseases besides cancer.
Identification of the cluster is the first and most important step. After the identification has been completed, it is necessary to search for the source of contamination and alert all the affected citizens. After all, the people living there have the right to be informed and to react to the unhealthy situation immediately.
Cancer clusters are sometimes caused by active industrial pollution, but that is not necessarily common. Although some modern industries and agricultural entities dispose of their waste in inappropriate ways that cause health problems, it is much rarer under the current legislative regime than it was in decades prior. It is much more usual for cancer clusters to be traced to naturally occurring conditions or human activity in the past.
For example, many places in the Rocky Mountains have naturally high levels of radon or asbestos. Since these are not visible to the eye, it is possible to build a house in an unfortunate location and not realize the risks for years.
The same problems occur when an earlier era’s lax standards about pollution and zoning expose people to contaminants. For example, there are places in America where industrial areas did not properly dispose of waste a hundred years ago, only to have someone build a house in that area 50 years ago.
The extremely long time lines involved in cancer clusters means that there is rarely an identifiable culprit. Therefore, the focus is usually upon amelioration and remediation through available funds. Funds can be sought on the state, local and federal levels, and there are often grants available. However, it may not be a practical possibility to clean an area.
Whether the toxins associated with a cluster are naturally occurring or the results of ancient pollution, sometimes the job is simply too big and the best thing to do for the people that live there is to move away. If agencies and organizations can help the unfortunate people to defray the loss of their home’s value, the cost of moving and their medical expenses, then that might be considered an excellent use of the power of government.
Government officials like Senator Mike Crapo have shepherded legislation through Congress that is meant to improve governmental response and tracking. Crapo recently sponsored the “Strengthening Protections for Children and Communities From Disease Clusters Act,” or Trevor’s Law, and it should greatly assist in future detection and treatment efforts.