All of us have been ravaged by cancer. Ourselves, loved ones, co-workers, neighbor children, patients, clients.
There is good news; rates of some cancers are going down, thanks largely to downward trends in smoking.1 But, there are many cases of cancer that will not be prevented by smoking cessation,2 and rates of some cancer types—especially those tied most strongly to chemicals and pollutants—are going up.3 Moreover, although cancer is considered a disease of old age, many cancers are rising in young adults.4
There is need for bold action in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants is higher than in 98% of counties across the country;5 where some neighborhoods have higher exposures than others because they are in the shadow of polluting facilities,6 compounding other health challenges with roots in racial injustice; and where petrochemical development and a synthetic plastics future will likely increase cancer risk.7 As in other regions, consumer products, including building materials can expose people to carcinogens.8
We have come together because we believe in prevention, and we believe that reducing exposure to environmental carcinogens is an important aspect of cancer prevention that has been overlooked. Healthy air, water, food, products, workplaces are essential for cancer prevention. Controlling pollution and ensuring the conditions that allow for healthy choices by individuals require systems-level changes: changes in research priorities, policy, institutional practices and mindsets that can come about through collaboration across multiple sectors and constituencies.9 Southwestern Pennsylvania is a region with extraordinary capacity for charting a different course: an equitable transition to a future of healthy environments supported by a thriving economy that does not depend on toxic chemicals or technologies that harm people and the planet.