Friday, October 7, 2011

PPCB Seminar on Cancer : Wrong understanding and Misleading Conclusions made Confusions darker


Kheti Virasat Mission's Response to Punjab Pollution Control Board's Workshop on Prevalence of Cancer in Punjab

Wrong understanding and Misleading Conclusions made Confusions darker

Punjab Pollution Control Board organised a workshop on Prevalence of Cancer in Punjab on 12.9.2011 at Shivalik Hotel Chandigarh. It had a prior fixed notion that the number of cancer cases in Punjab has not increased as is being put up by some NGOs and the media. Meaning thereby that there is nothing to worry and unnecessary scare is being created by NGOs and the media. It had also a fixed notion that environmental toxicity has nothing to do with the prevalence of Cancers and that the Cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol consumption.

The official version of Punjab Government was also shared that Industry's contribution to environmental/ water pollution was only twenty percent and eighty percent is contributed by city/ town sewers. Another important point in the official version was that agro chemicals are un avoidable. We have to use them to feed the people of our country. One more important point in the official version was that Uranium found in the environment of Punjab is no problem at all and we should not bother about it. Unnecessary scare is being created by some NGOs and the media.

All these points were thoroughly discussed in the seminar/ workshop. Official versions were seriously questioned/ challenged by participants. Very sound arguments were given to prove that all these versions do not match with the latest research in our country and other countries including USA and Europe. While releasing the conclusions of the workshop only official/ sarkari version which are based on old and one sided understanding were given to the media. These views are out dated and have been repeatedly proved wrong. The views of large number of participants have been blacked out. As a result very wrong and distorted message has been conveyed to the people of Punjab/ India. To put the record straight we briefly give the opinions of those who differed with the official version.

1. Regarding Number of Cases of Cancer in Punjab: Despite having huge infrastructure and staff the Health Department is yet not able to get proper figures of cancer incidence. The lone epidemiological study on cancer done by PGIMER and sponsored by PPCB was discredited by the government itself. Irony is this that Mr Satish Chandra who addressed the Workshop told the audience – “PGIMER study is not conclusive, it does not say that pesticides are responsible for cancer”, “PAU has opposed the study”. This reflects that a massive confusion and misinformation is prevailing in official circles. Since, there are no authentic figures of cancer cases with health department. No data regarding the prevalence of cancer cases 20-30 years back is there. Similarly no data is available about the prevalence of cancer cases now. Whatever figures are available are hospital based figures. No body has ever seriously tried to analyse even this data comparing the cancer cases 30 years back and now. There is no Population Based Registry in any region of Punjab at present which can only be the authentic source of data on Cancers in Punjab or Malwa region of Punjab. The only study regarding prevalence of Cancers was done by PGI Chandigarh. The original study (we have the copy) showed clearly that Cancer prevalence in Malwa was double as compared to rest of the Punjab. Cancer cases from Malwa are going to Rajasthan for treatment. The analysis of the data of these hospitals showed clearly that the toxicity related cancers are much more as compared to tobacco related cancers. We can not form an authentic view about the prevalence of cancers in Malwa or Punjab in the absence of studies/ a well organised Community Based Cancer Registry. The media has projected the voice of people and NGOs which is based on the increased number of cases as compared to 20-30 years back which no study/department has ever tried to verify. Even the illiterate villages are able to appreciate the tremendous increase in the prevalence of cancers and other serious illnesses in these villages. Strangely those in the chairs of administration and political power do not want to see it.

2. Environmental Toxicity and Cancers: Cancer is not single disease. There are three distinct types of cancers depending on the causation--one -those associated with use of tobacco; second-those which are associated with pesticides and other environmental toxins and third are those associated with radiations. The cancers associated with tobacco consumption are less in Punjab as compared to rest of the country because of the less consumption of tobacco here. The toxicity related cancers are much more in Punjab. There are clear indications of genetic mutations and lowered immunity which means that the number of cancer cases will increase even more in the future.

More over cancers are not an acute disease which come as dramatic epidemic and then go away if the cause is removed. Cancers are caused by 15-20 years of constant exposure to carcinogenic chemicals/ radiations. But once they start coming they will go on rising for decades and centuries to come even if the cause has been removed. One more fact should be remembered-if an individual is exposed to carcinogenic chemicals/ radiations, the possibility of developing cancer will not be the sum total of the two. A well known example is-a smoker has 11 times possibility of developing Lung Cancer as compared to non smoker, while an Asbestos Worker has 5 times possibility as compared to non worker. A person who is Asbestos Worker as well as Smoker should have 16 times possibility of developing Lung Cancer. But actually it is 55 times. That means that a smoker of a community who is affected by toxicity has much more chances of developing smoking based cancers as compared to an individual of a community not affected by toxicity and vice versa.

3. Industrial Pollution is not a serious issue: The rulers are trying to sell the idea that we need not be serious about industrial pollution but focus our selves on developing treatment plants for cities and towns. It is not the question of quantity of waste water which is being thrown into fresh water sources but the quality. The city sewers, if they contain only domestic waste water do not contain much of dangerous chemicals except synthetic detergents and plastic envelops. But the reality is that many industries also throw their waste water into the city sewers making them highly poisonous. The domestic water contains human and animal excreta. It can cause infectious diseases but can not change the chemical composition of the water. Today the bigger problem in Punjab is the dangerous chemicals in the water which come from industry only. The official version that 80% pollution is caused by Domestic Waste is naked lie being propagated to hide the criminal behavior of our industry and our politicians/ bureaucrats who provide them shelter to commit grave crimes against the humanity and nature. There are large number of industries who are using old and out dated techniques or are manufacturing such dangerous products whose waste can not even be processed. They will have to stop using those techniques. The problem of Industrial waste water is highly complex and each industry has to be dealt individually. Many industries which are doing more harm than good may have to be closed to save the environment and life.

4. Uranium found in the environment/ water of Punjab is not a serious problem: Recently uranium has been detected in significantly higher concentrations that the safe limits. Instead of finding the source of the uranium, the PPCB is trying to propagate the idea that there is nothing serious about it with the help of a physicist of Punjab University. Punjab Government / PPCB should try to understand the problem much more seriously than depending on one physicist whose arguments are very superficial and one sided. . Two very senior scientists present in the seminar, who has a long experience and has studied the consequences of Coal Based Thermal Power Plants, vehemently opposed the opinion of the physicist were totally ignored by the PPCB's Official version released to the media. We should seriously and sincerely go deep into the finding of excessive amounts of Uranium in the water / environment. If thermal plants come out to be the cause we should oppose the installation of too many new Coal Based Thermal Power Plants in a small state like Punjab. Many studies in USA / Europe and recently a study of Chanderpur Super Thermal Plant in Maharashtra have already proved that burning of too much coal cause very serious environmental pollution including that by Uranium.

5. Agro Chemical – Pesticides are un avoidable: This is lie which has been spoken so often that it seems true to all of us. No Agriculture University in India including PAU Ludhiana has ever tried to make a parallel research on non chemical agricultural practices. When too many studies have indicted pesticides and synthetic fertilisers of causing grave damage to human/ animal health and environment, NGOs and Agricultural Scientists started to experiment on organic/ natural farming. Now on the initiative of NGOs it has been proven beyond any doubt that agrochemicals are not needed for producing crops. It has proved in lacs of acres of land that organic and natural farming are not only sustainable but are urgent need in all the countries including India. Even FAO has categorically stated that entire humanity can be fed on organic without any serious consequence.

There is a serious degradation of environment of Punjab with grave consequences on health of humans/ animals, biodiversity, natural resources and other socio-economic / cultural aspects. We are amidst a serious environmental toxicity and civilisational crisis. We should not try to avoid and postpone the search for truth. We must launch an JAN ANDOLAN to mitigate and find a permanent solution. Kheti Virasat Mission is going to organise a two day workshop on ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CRISIS AND ITS SOCIOPOLITICAL SOLUTIONS on 28-29 October in CRRID Chandigarh. All political parties, Social, Cultural Organisations, NGOs, Kisan Organisations and individuals will be invited to attend it. The purpose is to try to make Environmental Degradation as ELECTION ISSUE in the coming ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS.

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