Toxic Tuesdays

Endometrial Cancer & Pesticides​

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Endometrial Cancer & Pesticides

Endometrial cancer is an increasingly common form of cancer in developed countries. There are both genetic and environmental risk factors associated with the development of endometrial cancer, and changing the environmental risk factors may be the easiest way of reducing the incidence of endometrial cancer. Pesticides – mixtures of chemicals used in agriculture to protect crop growth – are known to cause certain cancers, but it is unclear if they can cause endometrial cancer. A recent study in Spain found that occupational exposure to pesticides is associated with endometrial cancer.

The study took place from 2017 to 2021, with researchers administering a questionnaire to 180 women with endometrial cancer. To create a control group to compare these women to, researchers also administered the questionnaire to 218 women admitted to hospitals who didn’t have endometrial cancer. The researchers asked about lifetime occupational history, demographic information, tobacco consumption, physical activity, family history of diseases, reproductive factors, and other information.

The researchers systematically coded all respondents’ occupations based on a job exposure matrix (JEM) for Spanish working conditions. A JEM is a list of occupations that provides estimated exposures to a variety of harmful chemicals for each one, respectively. Using a JEM allowed the researchers to estimate respondents’ exposure to pesticides based on their occupations. This was a clever way of creating a history of each person’s occupational exposure to pesticides, whereas collecting their current environmental or biological data would not have been able to capture their accumulated lifetime exposure. The three categories of job titles considered to be exposed to pesticides were: agricultural, poultry, and livestock activities; cleaning staff; and manufacturing and lumber industries. Using the JEM, and estimated occupational exposure to pesticides, the researchers performed statistical tests to determine if occupational exposure was associated with endometrial cancer.

Occupational exposure to pesticides was associated with two times greater odds of developing endometrial cancer than not having occupational exposure. Exposures that happened further in the past were associated with cancer, as were exposures that happened before the age of 32. Surprisingly, increased cumulative exposure was not associated with endometrial cancer. Working in agricultural, poultry, and livestock activities was associated with four times greater odds of developing endometrial cancer. Working as cleaning staff was not associated with endometrial cancer, which could be because the intensity and frequency of exposure in these jobs may be lower.

Cancers like endometrial cancer can be difficult to study because it can take a long time for the disease to develop after someone gets exposed to a cancerous chemical. Once the disease develops, collecting environmental or biological samples from the patient’s time of exposure is not possible. This study got around these limitations by using a job exposure matrix to estimate exposure to pesticides throughout women’s entire working lives. Of course, these exposures are only estimates, their use of personal protective equipment in each job was unknown, and researchers could not know what other potential cancer-causing chemicals respondents may have been exposed to.

Regardless of the limitations, this study is valuable because diseases related to women’s reproductive systems are less studied compared to many other diseases. It is also the first study to show an association between occupational pesticide exposure and endometrial cancer.

New regulations and increased use of personal protective equipment may explain why exposures further in the past were more associated with endometrial cancer. However, the results of this study demonstrate that these improvements may not be enough to keep workers safe when they come into contact with pesticides. Endometrial cancer can now be added to a growing list of diseases associated with pesticides, and more should be done to protect workers and the public from these chemicals.

For more information, CHEJ has previously written about chemicals that have been used in pesticides and herbicides such as atrazinebenzeneethylbenzeneglyphosate, and pentachlorophenol.

Learn about more toxics

Backyard Monthly

Backyard Monthly – December 2023

December 2023
CHEJ's "All In" - Spotlight of the Month

This year CHEJ introduced our new monthly newsletter, The Backyard Monthly. This newsletter was designed to provide you with an update on CHEJ’s monthly activities. Our blogs, monthly training calls, Toxic Tuesdays, EJ Minute Podcast and more can now all be accessed and viewed in one, digestible email. We would like to take a short look back on just a few of the many highlights from 2023.

CHEJ’s Science Director and toxicologist, Stephen Lester, has been participating in the community response to the Norfolk Southern train derailment that resulted in spilling five tanker cars of vinyl chloride on the side of the tracks and intentionally burning it in the town of East Palestine, OH. Stephen’s 40 plus years of scientific and environmental justice expertise has been covered by several leading news organizations.

Stephen presented “Truth and Consequences” at the Midwest Environmental Health Summit on June 3, 2023, hosted by Citizens for a Clean Wausau. See the video here:

Our senior organizer and Small-Grants Manager, Teresa Mills, had also been engaging with Ohio-based environmental groups who are working with the East Palestine residents. Stephen and Teresa’s work is a prime example of what CHEJ has been doing for the past 42 years: providing scientific and organizing support to grassroots community-based organizations.

We were thrilled to reflect upon the remarkable success of the 2023 People’s Action Initiative Convention this past June! The purpose of this convention was to start an Organizing Revival to “re-ground the movement for multiracial democracy in the powerful skills and traditions of community organizing.” With a collective commitment to building a more just and sustainable future.

You don’t want to miss out on “Art Works”, by Ken Grossinger! This amazing book released earlier this year provides an inside look at the organizers and artists on the front lines of political mobilization and social change. Learn more and order a copy today!

Have you read “You Are Your Own Best Teacher” yet? In February, we highlighted the latest incredible book by social scientist and activist Claire Nader. Spark curiosity, imagination, and intellect by adding this book to your collection today

Remembering Teresa Mills

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has recently lost a beloved member of our family, Teresa Mills, our Ohio-based At-Large Community Organizer and Smalls Grants Manager… Read More

CHEJ User Experience: We Would Like to Interview You!

We recently launched a successful User Experience Survey to better serve you, our CHEJ audience and community. Now, we’re shifting to individual Zoom interviews to gather diverse participant experiences. If you are interested in participating in an interview, please complete this short demographic questionnaire for consideration. Selected interviewees will receive a token of appreciation: a choice between a $20 gift card or a book signed by CHEJ Founder Lois Gibbs. Your perspective matters, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Toxic Tuesday

Acrylonitrile is a clear liquid that smells like onions or garlic. It is man-made as it does not naturally occur on Earth. It is used to create other materials, most commonly acrylic fibers in clothing and carpeting. Acrylonitrile can enter… [Read more]

We previously addressed individual variability and how it affects a person’s response to toxic chemicals. Another important factor in toxicology is a person’s individual sensitivity to chemicals. How sensitive a person is to chemical exposure… [Read more]

Training Calls

Gasification and pyrolysis are thermal processes that convert organic substances into fuels. These processes are highly controversial due to their impact upon air quality. They are also a major concern for the communities surrounding the facilities that use them…. [Watch now]

Backyard Talk Blogs

By Leila Waid. As a research project for a university course, I conducted a literature review and systematic analysis of the health effects of PFAS in drinking water. This blog post contains a highlight and broad overview of the health[Read more]

By Gregory Kolen II. Environmental justice is an issue that affects everyone, but those who bear the brunt of it are often the most vulnerable members of society. Disadvantaged communities, specifically, are often the ones living in[Read more]

The EJ Minute Podcast

Excessive rainfall brought flooding to New York City in late September, we investigate the environmental justice hazards posed by flooding[Listen Now]

We explore recent news covering wildfires, EJ areas in Pennsylvania, and Texas voters[Listen Now]

We go over President Biden’s National Climate Assessment, Michigan’s New Clean Energy Bill, Cancer Clusters in Houston Texas[Listen now]

Do you find this information useful? Please consider pitching in and making a contribution to CHEJ. We appreciate your support!

As we look ahead to the end of 2023 and into new year, we come to you with a humble request. Your generous donation can help us continue our work, ensuring that we can continue to fight for those who are most vulnerable to environmental injustices. Your contribution could provide us with the resources needed to advocate for cleaner neighborhoods, safer schools, and healthier lives for all.

In this season of giving, we ask that you consider making an end-of-year donation to CHEJ. Together, we can create a healthier and more just world. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued support, and wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.

Backyard Talk Homepage

It’s Time to Do Right by the People in East Palestine, OH – and Elsewhere

Photo credit: CNN

By Stephen Lester.

Nearly 10 months ago, a Norfolk Southern train with more than 150 cars, many of which contained toxic chemicals, derailed in East Palestine, OH. Thirty-eight of the train cars derailed and a decision was made by Norfolk Southern to burn the contents of 5 tanker cars containing vinyl chloride and other toxic chemicals. This unleashed a huge black cloud full of particulates that enveloped the surrounding neighborhoods and farms in both OH and PA.

Immediately after the burn, people in East Palestine began reporting adverse health symptoms including headaches, nose bleeds, skin rashes, central nervous symptoms, thyroid problems and more. These and other adverse health problems have continued to plague the residents of this rural midwestern town.

EPA immediately responded by telling people that everything was alright and there was no cause for alarm. EPA’s testing found no levels of “concern.” But the people in East Palestine could not accept this narrative because they knew things were not right. They knew the health effects they were suffering from were real. They knew that EPA was not telling them the truth.

If EPA were honest with the people at East Palestine, they would have told them that they didn’t understand why people were continuing to report so many illnesses while their data told them otherwise. But if EPA did acknowledge how little is known about the link between adverse health effects and exposures to mixtures of chemicals, the people of East Palestine would demand action in the face of these uncertainties. Actions like paying for relocations so that they can stop being exposed to the toxic chemicals that are still in the air and getting the health care they need to move on with their lives.

The people in East Palestine deserve better. So do hundreds of other communities across this country where people have similarly been exposed to low levels mixtures of toxic chemicals. It is clear from the situation in East Palestine that very little is known about how people respond to chemical exposures, especially to low level mixtures. This is evident when the EPA and other public health agencies who rely on traditional toxicology and risk assessment are telling the people of East Palestine that everything is safe when it clearly is not.

It’s time to acknowledge that the scientific understanding does not exist to explain what is happening to the health of the people in East Palestine. It’s time to recognize that we cannot rely on traditional toxicology to answer the questions people have about their exposures to low level chemical mixtures. It’s time to do the right thing by the people in East Palestine and by hundreds of communities across the U.S. where people are being exposed to low level mixtures of toxic chemicals. It’s time to acknowledge that the tools we have are not able to answer the questions people raise about their exposure to toxic chemicals and give people the relief they are asking for, whether it’s cleanup, relocation, health care or something else.   

It’s what the government did for the Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange; for the atomic bomb victims exposed to radiation fallout; for the 9/11 first responders in New York City; for the soldiers exposed to burn-pit smoke in Iran and Afghanistan and other overseas locations; and for the Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina who drank contaminated water. Do the people of East Palestine deserve anything less than the soldiers and first responders who protect this country?

In each of these instances, the government recognized that the science linking exposure and health outcomes was incomplete and instead of requiring proof of cause and effect, they said, “Enough, we will take care of our own.” They moved to a presumptive scientific approach that allowed veterans and first responders to  health care and other compensation. We should do the same for the people of East Palestine and in hundreds of other communities that have been exposed to low level mixtures of toxic chemicals.