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Discussing the book "Malignant neglect" with the author Joseph Highland

BROADCAST: May. 31, 1979 | DURATION: 00:45:11


Discussing the book "Malignant neglect" with the author Joseph Highland.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel I guess everybody worries about cancer. And, it's interesting, cancer is number two among the killers whereas, at the turn of the century, it was number eight. How come? And, we're told that it is, to some extent, congenital. But now, more and more information is forthcoming that it is environmentally caused, which, of course, indicates that it is preventable. "Malignant Neglect" is quite a book. It's put out by the Environmental Defense Fund, which is an offshoot of a lot of the work of Ralph Nader in investigative journalism, and finding out what it's about. And it's the first complete, up-to-date, authoritative report on the known or suspected cancer-causing agents in our environment and how to control them. We can also control the spread of cancer itself. My guest is Dr. Joseph Highland, a biochemist, who's worked with the group, and Alfred Knopf the publishers, this quite explosive book. At the same time, in a strange way, affirmative book. How- it's more than a how-to book, it's concerns itself with the life in our society, individually as well as for the community. And so, Dr. Highland and his reflections on this book- more than the book, on the side- on this whole theme. Malignant- "Malignant Neglect," in a moment after this message. So we begin, Dr. Highland, with the rather explosive statement: it is environmentally caused, it's from the outside-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. Right. It means, basically, that it's not a disease which comes with old age. It's not inevitable. We don't need to accept it as just a fact of life. There's something we can do to prevent it. And we just haven't done a job that we should have done to- to prevent it in the past, and we're hoping we can do that in the future.

Studs Terkel Well, the- there's almost an encyclopedia of causes in the book. And so, you know, the matter of chemicals, the matter of the air-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel The matter of industrial pollution, the matter of the workplace.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. It seems overwhelming at first, but you have to realize that, in the past, we just haven't looked, and we're starting to find bits and pieces. And so every time a new chemical or a new product is found, there's- there's a feeling of, "oh, it's- it's everywhere. It can't be helped." That's not- that's not the case at all. We have- we have hundreds of thousands of chemicals in our society. We have many different exposures that go on daily which don't produce cancer. It's just we've never tried to understand the problem and prevent

Studs Terkel Invariably some columnist or some comic, and, sometimes hard to differentiate the two-

Dr. Joseph Highland [laughter]

Studs Terkel Are saying, "oh, well, we're warned by the Cassandras, by the doomsayers, that-" just about any thinks you might as well not eat or you might as well not breathe.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel And your- William Raspberry, who should know better, had a column to that effect.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's-

Studs Terkel And you rebut this. And the- the point is there- the overwhelming amount of- of chemicals are not carcinogenic.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's correct. And I- I think if you look at the examples that we cite in the book, some of them in consumer products, where you have a hazard, you have a flame retardant used in children's clothing to protect them which is found to cause cancer and absorb through the children's skin and therefore poses a risk to the children. Or hair coloring agents which absorb through the scalp and color your hair. You find that, when the problems are identified, they're corrected, the products are not removed from the market. It's not a doomsday kind of approach. It's sort of, we'll take our time, we'll analyze the situation, we'll correct what's wrong, we'll still have hair coloring agents, we'll still have flame retardant clothing for children, but we'll avoid the problems. And that's what we're saying, basically. If we- if we make the effort, we can understand what is hazardous and what is not and then prevent the use of hazardous substances, making the products we use, the air we breathe, the water we drink, safer.

Studs Terkel Before we cite chapter and verse, and also the role or the non-role played by some of the governmental agencies that are seemingly designed for consumer protection-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right-

Studs Terkel and you'll na- and you cite cases of Environmental Protective Association, or the Federal Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the roles they haven't played. A word, perhaps, about how this work came to be. A word about the Environmental Defense Fund itself.

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, the Environmental Defense Fund is an organization which is 12 years old now. It grew into existence because of the concern of some scientists in- in Long Island, New York. Concerned about DDT spray. It's a very interesting story. When I was a kid and grew up on Long Island, there used to be a truck that came around every week. And we called 'em the fog man, and he came around, and he blasted the streets, in his big orange truck, with DDT. And those of us who, at that age, had a macho image, stood outside and swallowed up the stuff, and the scaredy cats ran in the basement. I guess they were smarter. And the scientists were concerned 'cause they were starting to see the advent of problems in the environment because of DDT. And, so they formed a group, and they tried to have the spraying stopped and were successful. They did that in New York, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and, then, one of the men's daughters was nursing a child and asked, "could this DDT be in my breast milk that I'm feeding my child?" And, so, the breast milk was analyzed, and the DD tell- T levels were so high, that if that milk had been cow's milk in interstate commerce it couldn't have been sold. It would have- it would have been in violation of federal standards. And, so, an ad was run for a appeal to support this group, and from that, it's grown over the last 12 years to group with about 60 full-time people who work on environmental issues.

Studs Terkel By the, more and more than that. In- in this instance young doctors and biochemists. I say young-

Dr. Joseph Highland [laughter]

Studs Terkel And I mean- well they- are really coming out, aren't they.

Dr. Joseph Highland Yeah. It's a real opportunity, I mean, a lot of us went through the- the student movement in the past when it was at its- its peak. Several of us who work at the Environmental Defense Fund worked for Ralph Nader in the past. And we sought to a career which would allow us to- to use our talents, be they lawyers, scientists, physicians, whatever to solve societal problems in a constructive way. And, so, we went to work for groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and carry on full-time programs. My thought when I- when I went to the Environmental Defense Fund, I was working at the National Cancer Institute for a while, was that there was a need to translate a lot of the technical information which a group like the Environmental Defense Fund produces daily and brings to courts or to federal agencies. But make it available to the public in a form that was readable, and that's where we came to the conclusion that it was time to write a book. And

Studs Terkel that's Yeah

Dr. Joseph Highland We come to here. "Malignant

Studs Terkel We won't follow this chronologically, but, thoughts come to my mind-

Dr. Joseph Highland Sure.

Studs Terkel Since you mentioned the national cancer's- NCI-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel What role has it been playing?

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, it has a tremendous responsibility that hasn't been fulfilled in the past, which is to evaluate the hazardous nature of certain chemicals. Most of us look at the National Cancer Institute and believe that it functions to prevent cancer somehow. Most of it- most of its budget goes to cancer research not cancer prevention, and that's a real problem. They, for years, the results of tests they were running were held without publication. Some of the hair coloring agents that we looked at had been on test for seven or eight years, held up for four or five years. In that period of time, people continued to use unhealthy products. Lately, because of the resignation of one of the country's best scientists, Dr. Umberto Saffiotti, things have begun to change. Dr. Saffiotti headed the program and was responsible and finally said, "I cannot continue. This is a charade. The people, the workers, everyone needs this information. We're not giving it attention, and I will not tolerate being a focal- a focal point or a head which, without a real program." In response to that, things have begun to change, and, now, the Cancer Institute is producing more. It has a very good director now, Dr. Arthur Upton, but it's a long way to goes 'til it's really fulfilling, Upton.

Studs Terkel I'd Upton. Not to be [confu] with Dr. Upholt-

Dr. Joseph Highland Upholt. No, not

Studs Terkel Perhaps a word about Dr. Upholt. There's a page 31 quote that is an- unbelieve- Dr. Upholt once worked for a governmental agency?

Dr. Joseph Highland He worked as a- as a science adviser in the- in the Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for controlling air pollution, water pollution, whole series of things like that.

Studs Terkel He worked for EPA.

Dr. Joseph Highland Yeah. He was one of the top science advisers. I mean, the the agency bases its- its policies on the kind of scientific advice that Dr. Upholt provided.

Studs Terkel In "Newsday" of 1976- and this is an actual quote, isn't it? Dr. Upholt, who was just retiring from the Environmental Protection Associate, to become what?

Dr. Joseph Highland He's now a private consultant.

Studs Terkel A

Dr. Joseph Highland So, he still- he still plays a very active role because they use him as a private person as- instead of on the public

Studs Terkel So a 1976, quoting Dr. Upholt: "I'm predicting that, in the next 10 years, people will come to the conclusion that cancer isn't the worst thing in the world. Bad as it is, it isn't the worst thing can happen to somebody."

Dr. Joseph Highland Yeah. I think it's reflective of the kind of attitude that has led to our country ignoring the problem for so long. I mean there's a- there is a lot we can do, we simply haven't done it, and the reason we haven't done it is because there are people, like Bill Upholt, who have given an agency a sentiment that- look there's no- there's- we shouldn't get so concerned here. There are bad things all around us. That's simply not true. I mean, we have a situation, a striking situation, today, where one out of four people living today will get cancer. One out of four. And two out of three who get it will die of it. Our- our "ability to cure cancer" and that's should be in quotes, hasn't improved over the last decade. We- we talk about survival rates. We talk about five-year survival rates. We don't talk about cure. And, I think the pain and suffering is enormous, and it's felt tremendously by the people who are affected.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] Professor Albert Szent-Györgyi

Dr. Joseph Highland Yes.

Studs Terkel Who discovered Vitamin C. He's in such despair. So it's about- what's the- scene about six months ago. He didn't want to talk, and he was- he was talking [above?] it- of course, the nuclear arms race, the madness of it, and all the societies-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel Involved. But, also about c- he was saying, that, hardly any move, as far as cure is concerned, hardly any advance since some German guy first discovered the beginnings, of a century ago,

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right. I mea- we we put a chapter in "Malignant Neglect" on the biology of cancer to try to explain to people a little bit about what all the terms mean. What is malignant? What is benign? What i- what do- what do we know about the biology of cancer? The unfortunate thing is we know very little. We don't know what happens. We don't know why it happens, and we don't know how to control it. And, so, yes, in isolated cases like with childhood leukemia, we make certain improvements in- in the length of time that people live once they're quote "cured."

Studs Terkel But the key to this book- the theme throughout is that it is definitely preventative.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right-

Studs Terkel Preventive.

Dr. Joseph Highland We- we can prevent

Studs Terkel preventable, I'm sorry.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. We can prevent cancer if we make the effort, and if we don't, we're gonna just see an increase in the pain and suffering, and the cost to society from this disease.

Studs Terkel And the cause? And we're not talking about something inherent, as far as cause is concerned, or something genetic although there

Dr. Joseph Highland No.

Studs Terkel There may be-

Dr. Joseph Highland There may be familial tendencies. I mean, there's certainly biological differences in people. But, if someone is not exposed to a carcinogen, then that tendency, or that- that susceptibility won't come out. You just

Studs Terkel So we're talking about something from the outside,

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right. We're talking about a whole group of chemicals, of natural components, some of them, which we can prevent our exposure to and therefore prevent our incidence of cancer. And the book tries to- to explain what we've done in the past, and then there's a whole chapter on what an individual can do to minimize or decrease their risk of cancer.

Studs Terkel And, so, let's come to a- now, chapter and verse. You had mentioned DDT. The obvious question is, since Rachel Carson this quite powerful book, that was when?

Dr. Joseph Highland That was about 17 years ago now.

Studs Terkel It had impact at the moment and-

Dr. Joseph Highland Stunning impact. And it's- it still today, I mean, I went back and read that book three or four times as I was writing this book. And it was- she had a phenomenal insight into the problems of society. The fact is, since that time, we really haven't accomplished very much. We've banned maybe three or four hazardous pesticides. But the amount of pesticides who enter our marketplace, and the number of untested pesticides that remain in the marketplace, are extraordinarily high.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] it become part of a way of life as far as farming and agriculture's concerned.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right. An over-dependence. I mean, we face situations where the- those who are advising farmers on the right methodologies for pest control are salesmen for pesticide companies. I mean it's a direct conflict of interest. We haven't put the emphasis we should've into integrated pest management, which relies on other types of controls. There- there are alternatives, we just need to find them.

Studs Terkel The alternatives you're talking about, Dr. Highland, of DDT, farmers say, "we need it to get rid of the pests. It helps us a great deal," and yet, when we come- have that apple or that vegetable or whatever it is is sprayed with it-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel We're in difficulty. What- What's the alternative?

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, there are ways of controlling pests which don't rely so heavily on chemicals. It's called integrated pest management as a technique, and it relies on biological controls. The proper use of chemicals, not just pouring them on. Timing their use so that they're not contaminating the foods we get later in the- on the shelves. So, it's not, again, an all-outright ban of all chemicals. That's not the solution. No one would- no one's suggesting that. We are suggesting is we use our heads in terms of using these things. We don't saturate the earth needlessly with pesticides. Let me give you a good example. One of the regulations for chemicals was, now been banned, called dieldrin, a pesticide. Was you had to see if there was any residue of dieldrin that wound up on the crop you applied it to. Well, the crop that it was applied to was corn, and there was no residue in the corn. But no one thought ahead and said, "but corn is rotated yearly with soybeans." So when the soybeans were planted, they took up the dieldrin pesticide, and then we got dieldrin-contaminated soybeans coming to the marketplace.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland It's that kind of shortsightedness- that- that- that lack of understanding that these chemicals, many of them, will stay around for decades in the earth. And be available not only to the crop they're applied to, but crops for- for many plantings to come.

Studs Terkel I'm thinkin' about also, we- we're thinkin- we can't think in terms of small farmers anymore. There are, and there should be more. Agribusiness itself, I suppose, makes the pesticide and

Dr. Joseph Highland Sure there's a tremendous interlocking connection-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland Here between those who who make the materials, those who recommend their use of the materials. In California, where we have an office, we've found that the agricultural advising agents, many of them- large majority of them, are pesticide salesmen. So, of course, when they're going to advise a farmer as to what techniques to use, they're gonna advise to use the pesticides which they produce. There's no incentive to do anything differently.

Studs Terkel How has the Department of Agriculture-

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, it's interesting. The Department of Agriculture has, in every case where a pesticide, a carcinogenic- cancer-causing pesticide- has come up for regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency, has taken just the opposite side, where the Environmental Protection Agency said, "this is a hazard to human health- an imminent hazard to human health and should be removed," the Department of Agriculture has said, "leave it on the market. There's no danger here." So we've had our government, different parts of it, arguing against itself in in the courts of the United States. It's a sad- it's a sad history. If you- if you read the chapter on pesticides in "Malignant Neglect," you'll find that the authority to control pesticides resided with the Department of Agriculture for a long time, and it was only after an abysmal record of non-regulation that that authority was transferred to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Studs Terkel I noticed that on page 118, I have it marked- USDA record, and it's- it's not-

Dr. Joseph Highland It's not a good record.

Studs Terkel The most charming one.

Dr. Joseph Highland No.

Studs Terkel No. We're talkin' about- there's so much. And we have to make clear, right the begin, to emphasize the point that it's not everything that does it. Because if- if we assume it's everything, people say, "OK. Let's eat everything."

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, the- if- if everything caused cancer, then I think the attitude expressed, as you said earlier in the program, by Raspberry and others that, well there's nothing you can do, let's just go on and- and get exposed, would be a rational one. It's irrational because not everything does cause cancer. Not everything is a problem, but we have never in this country made the effort to require that we know about a chemical before we use it. Give you the best example: cosmetics to this day are not regulated in any sense this way. If you and I wanted to make a cream that could be rubbed into people's skin, we could select the ten worst chemicals in the world, put them together, package it, and sell it on the market tomorrow, and we wouldn't have to tell the Food and Drug Administration we were doing it, we wouldn't have to tell 'em what's in it, we wouldn't have to test it for safety, we could just go ahead and market it. That's the kind of lack of control. So there's no question that, yes, there are gonna be bad chemicals in cosmetics. Yes, there'll be bad chemicals in pesticides. Yes, there'll be bad chemicals as food additives. But that's only because we haven't tried to sort it out and make the correct decisions before these chemicals enter the marketplace.

Studs Terkel That's it.

Dr. Joseph Highland We're saying, "take the steps now." Yes it adds costs at the beginning, but it saves enormous cost and suffering in the end. And that's one of the real problems in dealing with cancer as an issue, and I- it's appropriate, I guess, in terms of- of the events of the days. When you have something as tragic as a as a DC-10 crash of an airlines, which occurred here in Chicago recently. There's a tremendous amount of horror seen. There's a tremendous amount of attention paid, and we check DC-10s immediately. When you're exposed to a carcinogen in the air you're breathing day after day after day, the fact is we don't see an immediate impact. And if you get cancer 30 years from now, it's very hard to connect that event to that exposure. And so, therefore, trying to convince people that there are hazards they're being exposed to which will impact on their lives in the future is very very difficult. The event is not obvious. That the- the sickness is not obvious. If every time you ate a carcinogen, you got a vile taste in your mouth, we would solve the problem tomorrow. It's just that, you don't know, I don't know, everyone listening doesn't know, and that's the

Studs Terkel But there's something else- there is something else to, there are billions spent, television commercials, particularly, or ads in slick magazines and-

Dr. Joseph Highland Oh yes-

Studs Terkel Others, on the things we're talking about. And those billions spent, appeal definitely, and have an effect on the viewer and on the reader. And so we have a young woman saying, "if I'm gonna give up my hairdryer," like we could talk

Dr. Joseph Highland about Right.

Studs Terkel "I would rather die." So is choosing, to to paraphrase Jessica Mitford, choosing death as an American way of life.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right. And it- and that's an un- that's a needless choice, is our point. Basically, take a look at hairdryers or hair coloring agents. It's it's funny, they both focus on the same area. When we found problems with hair coloring agents, and we were afraid that these were cancer-causing chemicals. You knew that they absorbed into the body because people complaining about brown urine after they use these agents on their head. The response in large part was as you say, you know, I- I don't want to give it up. I need it. I've been convinced by advertising that I'm not me. I- I- I- I can't be a whole person if I don't have it. As a matter of fact, one interview I saw of a beautician, I think it's classic, said: "women need hair coloring agents. They get up in the morning, they look in the mirror, and they're unacceptable to themselves and society. If they don't have these products, they're not a person." Well that- that's an attitude I think we have to change. More to the point, when we found that there were hazardous chemicals in these compounds, we took 'em out. The products remain on the shelves, but the bad chemicals are gone. When a hairdryer was found to have an asbestos liner, which blew asbestos in your face as you used it, we found there was a safe alternative. Cost 28 cents to put in a new liner.

Studs Terkel You say we found them. Now, how'd that come about? Does this involve Federal Drug Administration?

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, in part it involves the- the Food and Drug Administration-

Studs Terkel The Food and Drug Admins- alright-

Dr. Joseph Highland The- the- the- the hair coloring agents. It comes about where the problems become obvious because of groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, because of people like Ralph Nader and others, who try to look at the morass of material that's presented in Washington daily and pick out what's important and bring it to public attention and say this is unacceptable. Many times reports come out of the National Cancer Institute or other federal agencies and sit on shelves and collect dust. When you look at those reports and you analyze what's happening, you can take some action and you can force the government to take some action. But the solutions can be found and they're not- they're not impossible

Studs Terkel You said, sit on the shelf and not take action. On this very day of this conversation, there was a news report to the effect that in some area of the country, I forget now, there was a wild radiation output and quite dangerous. And, finally discovered, I imagine by a watchdog groups such as yours- and they asked the governmental guy involved, "how come you never told us? He says, well nobody ever asked

Dr. Joseph Highland That- that that's a classic. That's a real classic. And I- you know, we- we- we try to bring these issues to light. We've written "Malignant Neglect" in the hopes that, one, people will understand that there is a solution, and, two, in one of the chapters, we provide some answers for common everyday problems.

Studs Terkel Before that I want just stick with this-

Dr. Joseph Highland Sure.

Studs Terkel Theme of the woman who says-

Dr. Joseph Highland "I'd rather

Studs Terkel "I'd just soon die as not have my hair dye or those cosmetic." We have to come to the effect on the public of tremendous advertising. And so we come to that celebrated controversy of saccharin and the Delaney Clause.

Studs Terkel Right.

Studs Terkel Start from the beginning.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. The- the- we should start by saying that saccharin, the artificial sweetener, should be off the market in my opinion and, even if we didn't have a Delany Clause, we have

Studs Terkel The Delaney clause is after a congressman who is head of a committee.

Dr. Joseph Highland Yes. Congressman Delaney of New York, when the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act was up for revision, very intelligently said, at that time, and it's still true today, "we have no way of knowing if there's any safe level of exposure to a cancer-causing chemical. The evidence we have to date suggests there's none, and therefore, we will not allow the deliberate, intentional addition of car- cancer-causing chemicals to our food supply." Simply stated. Saccharin is an artificial sweetener gained tremendous popularity among those who felt they needed it for diabetes and among those who were quote tryin' to watch their weight. When saccharin was found to cause cancer in laboratory animals, in a in a study by the Canadian government, the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were going to ban the use of saccharin in this country. And the response was overwhelming by the industry that uses it so heavily, both saccharin manufacturers, the soft drink industry, which uses about 70 percent of it, and the Diabetic Association.

Studs Terkel And the public, to some

Dr. Joseph Highland The public. The public wrote congressmen and senators saying, "leave saccharin, we need it." Well if you look at the scientific facts about saccharin, I think you'll see that your point's well made. It's basically advertising has convinced people they need saccharin, not science. Scientific facts are: that saccharin does cause cancer in laboratory animals, it's now been shown in two studies to increase the risk of bladder cancer in men- in human epidemiological studies. Animals fed saccharin-containing diets actually gain weight, not lose weight, because saccharin, besides supplying an alternative for sugar, is an appetite stimulant. So, based on the lack of benefit- no one had been able to establish a true benefit either in terms of the medical diabetic issue or in terms of weight control, and the evidence that it causes harm, shouldn't be on the market. It's that simple, but the public has been led to believe that, one, the experiments that have been performed are are inappropriate. You'd have to drink 600 cans of diet soda a day to get cancer. That's the classic one-liner.

Studs Terkel Well that's one- by, that was offered by the former head of the

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right. He was a-

Studs Terkel Sherman Gardner-

Dr. Joseph Highland Sherman Gardner was an acting director of the FDA, and when he presented the- the evidence that they were going to ban saccharin, he presented in such a way that just instilled public upset and- and- and- and- and made it so that, how can they do this preposterpous act-

Studs Terkel You know, this- this raises a question. I'm naturally of a suspicious bent in this case.

Dr. Joseph Highland Mmmm.

Studs Terkel He- he raised the issue. He brought it forth in such a manner [it seems?] almost were deliberate to- to inflame public against the Delaney Clause.

Dr. Joseph Highland Yeah, it's clear that- that Gardner knew what he was doing, he's not a stupid individual. And it's clear that the approach he took was only gonna result in an inflammatory

Studs Terkel And he was head of the FDA at the time.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right.

Studs Terkel Although, right now, the head of it is-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right now the head of it is Don Kennedy.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland And it's interesting to see the Commissioner Kennedy, after he became Commissioner, came out with a completely different statement about saccharin and put it in the proper perspective.

Studs Terkel One question I must ask you. Doctor Highland is my guest, and he's a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. It's it's a watchdog group. Watchdog in the very best sense. The group was put together- it's quite remarkable work. "Malignant Neglect," and, toward the end, what you individually can do. But we come back to the- one of the- one of the big controversies: the analogy that is drawn very often by scientists between the effect on animals, non-humans, and humans, and often, very often, you have some scientist working for a company saying that you- this cannot apply.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. We- we have the classic of that was, the- in hair dyes. The industry first found results in- in- in even non-animal tests. There were results reported by a scientist in California named Dr. Bruce Ames in a bacterial system, and I try in the book to explain how what happens to bacteria can be relevant to your life. Take it right now that it is, and the response of the industry was, "well bacteria aren't humans. If it was in animals, the results would be valid." Then the animal results came out and the industry said, "Well animals results are invalid for humans either." It's a- it's a- it's a fact of life that, one, no one should ever think of experimenting on humans. Where- where people have been exposed and many times, I think, needlessly in the workplace because of a lack of government concern. Yes, we should study those workers. We're seeing the horrible effects of exposure to asbestos. Now- right now in asbestos insulation workers. That's not the way to find out if something is hazardous. It's not the way because it's human lives involved, and it's not the way because it takes so long. Animals are a valid test model. All except one so far known human carcinogen causes cancer in animals. There's not a discrepancy here. If it causes cancer, we know, in humans, it will cause it in animals. They're very good models for us

Studs Terkel Does it work the other way around?

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, as far as we can tell it works.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland The problem is that we don't want

Studs Terkel to Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland On humans-

Studs Terkel Right.

Dr. Joseph Highland So that we know 100 chemicals cause cancer in animals. We know 40 of those have caused cancer in humans. We don't want to-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland Take the forty-first and expose a group of humans. But, I explain in the chapter

Studs Terkel The track record-

Dr. Joseph Highland It's no question.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland Explaining the biology of cancer chapter of our book exactly why that's the case. We're not that different than animals we are- we- we're- we look different, but biologically, a biological level, at the level that cancer is caused, there is a lot of similarity, and so the animals are gonna respond as

Studs Terkel Let's resume- let's resume this conversation a moment with Dr. Joseph Highland, who a biochemist, a member of the Environmental Defense Fund, and the book that he and his colleagues have put out is "Malignant Neglect," and it's- it's an authoritative one indeed. "On the known suspected cancer-causing agents in our environment," that's the subtitle. And how it is ingested- that's a word I always wanted to use-

Dr. Joseph Highland [laughter]

Studs Terkel How it is from the outside, it is environmentally caused and not something on the inside, and it's preventable. Alfred Knopf, the publish[er]. We'll resume in a moment after this message. So, resuming the conversation with Dr. Highland, the workplace- we started with the workplace.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right

Studs Terkel And so, more and more, we're discovering petrochemical plants

Dr. Joseph Highland Thats right.

Studs Terkel Asbestos. Since asbestos is almost pervasive as far as our lives are concerned, isn't it. It's- it's in almost- it's an ingredient of so many things that.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right. It's been used very widely in terms of consumer products like hairdryers, brake linings on automobiles, insulation for homes, floor tiling. Many, many uses. The worker, don't forget, has been, in in a horrible sense, society's guinea pig. We- we- we instead of, again, saying, "we don't know enough about this chemical, so we will prevent worker exposure." The argument's always made, "until we know it's harmful, we won't protect." We face the problem with these exposures. We're not talking about something which is an acute poison. It won't kill the worker tomorrow. It won't kill you tomorrow. It may kill you in 30 years, though. And so that's why we've had decades of disregard for worker health and safety that wound up in disease later on, and then the response: "Well we'd better make the controls better." And many times the responses have been, I think, just disgraceful. Let me give you one example. When vinyl chloride was found to be carcinogenic, causing cancer- and we looked what we had done with vinyl chloride. First we found a whole group of workers-

Studs Terkel And

Dr. Joseph Highland Who were exposed-

Studs Terkel Vinyl chloride appears in what?

Dr. Joseph Highland Vinyl chloride is the building block for what's called polyvinyl chloride, many vinyl chloride stuck together, and it's used as a plastic in a wide variety of uses in the home and all over. When we looked and we found that this chemical caused cancer, we found that we had sent workers into drums where the vinyl chloride levels were so high that they were coming down with a rare form of cancer, a liver cancer called angiosarcoma. We looked a little further, we found that vinyl chloride had been used in hairspray materials as a quote inert ingredient for years. Without knowledge of what the hazard could be, we simply stuck it in a can, and we let women with hair- with hairspray spray it in their face year after year after year. Then we found it was hazardous. Then we removed it the from the product. Then we upset people. Why not, before it had entered the marketplace, test it and assure its safety before we allowed workers, before we allowed consumers to be exposed and come down with with dread diseases. That's the premise here: look before you use.

Studs Terkel Again we come to the question of a governmental role. OSHA is the- is the Office of Safety- Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's correct.

Studs Terkel How how is that

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, in the past it's worked not to the workers' favor. The book describes some- some horrendous stories with OSHA about how, during the Nixon administration, Nixon was one hand saying to workers, "We're gonna form this administration, it's going to protect your health." And on the other hand, his aides were saying to industry, "we won't let it put out any tough standards. Don't let it worry you."

Studs Terkel And Ford, I think, said, "I'd like to dump this. OSHA-"

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right. Yeah. He went to- he went out campaigning, I believe it was in the northeast of the country, sort of saying, "I know it's been a problem to you. We're gonna- I'd love to dump it in the ocean and get rid of it. Matter of fact, and right now, the director of OSHA, Dr. Eula Bingham, is really, I think, the first director who's had the courage to use or try to use the powers of the agency to protect workers. It's been- the agency's been criticized because it had ridiculous standards. It had toilet seat cover standards and ladder standards which were really inapplicable to health and well-being. And Dr. Bingham has eliminated those standards and said, "let's face the real problems. Let's try to regulate carcinogens." And she- she's had a policy out from her agency which is a very, I think, new and direct tact to take in this area. It's met tremendous industry opposition. Industry doesn't want to know, and basically what she tries to do is- is to- the agency is trying to do, not Dr. Bingham, per se, is to classify chemicals and say, "look if we know they're hazardous, we're going to control them, and if we don't know they're hazardous we're going to control them to a certain extent until we do know, but we're gonna require testing." That's the kind of federal approach we need. We just haven't had it.

Studs Terkel Yeah. I'm thinkin', you know, sometimes we use- use names of chemicals and their technical names, and yet you explain it- I'm thinkin' PCB, Barry Commoner speaks of this-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel PCB is what?

Dr. Joseph Highland PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyl. It's- it's a complex structure, but it's a chemical probably which is the most widespread contaminant known to man-

Studs Terkel And that's used in what?

Dr. Joseph Highland It's been used in- in a variety of of electrical equipment. It was used heavily in capacitors and transformers because of its dielectric properties. But it wound up in paints, in soaps. You name it, it probably once had PCBs in it, and we-

Studs Terkel [cough]

Dr. Joseph Highland Basically face a situation where these chemicals have been allowed to be dumped into our air, our water, our food supply, and- and we are just overwhelmed. And we used PCBs in this book as a separate chapter to try to indicate to people, as a case study, what happens when we fail to control the spread of an environmental carcinogen. What can go wrong? And, so the book uses PCBs as the example chemical.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking- we'll come to the moment as to what's to be done, and this is not everything. Air, we come to air, fi- I was gonna say, air, land- air, earth, fire, or water.

Dr. Joseph Highland [Laughter]

Studs Terkel Well, air and water.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. We- we- we, as a nation- as in- as individuals, air pollution, water pollution are very difficult to control. You and I have very little choice over what air we breathe or the water we drink. That's really the responsibility of the federal government, and our track record here has not been good. And we try to explain in the book why, and we actually make some concrete suggestions for new federal policies which would change the way we appro- approach these situations. We also talk about water filters, you know, a thing which has become very popular recently. People concerned about their drinking water, so they buy these little screw-on filters to their taps. They're not very effective. They shouldn't be used, and the book gives three different methods for filtering water at home, which are much more effective in in terms of their use. I think it's important to realize that- that, individuals not only can do things about their own life, filtering their own water the right way, but, I think, it's a point made a long time ago by Ralph Nader, and a very important one, that if a society- a democratic society has to really be a democracy, it can't have people abdicating their power and just believing that they- they really have an effective government if they vote every four years, and most people voting for the lesser of two evils. You've gotta actively be concerned about what goes on. You've gotta try to understand. You've gotta work with groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, work with federal agencies, work with state and local governments, and let your voice be heard and play an active role. Otherwise, water pollution, air pollution- those decisions about how to effect those problems are only influenced by the big companies whose have a stake in seeing that those standards are not strict, a direct financial stake in it. And, we have to, both at a personal level make choices and at a societal level make some choices.

Studs Terkel Diet?

Dr. Joseph Highland Diet- clearly a place where we can influence our own lives very heavily. We can choose what foods we eat. We talk in the book about fat. There's a very interesting studies have been done associating colon cancer with increased fat in the diet, decreased fiber content in the diet. We don't really know what the cause is. We just know there are several things which seem to come together. Fats contain carcinogens, that's where the carcinogens which are stable are stored. High-fat diet, maybe the carcinogens are present, enter the body, cause cancer. High-fat diet, less movement of material through the body- slower, therefore these chemicals have longer contact. So we make suggestions about minimizing the content of fat in your diet, maximizing the amount of fiber, s- discussions about the type of other foods, for instance fish. Where do you eat fish from? Do you want to eat fish from the Great Lakes or don't you eat fish from the Great Lakes? Better to eat ocean fish. Great Lakes fish are heavily contaminated with PCBs,

Studs Terkel Really? Ocean fish [wasn't it named a few-]

Dr. Joseph Highland Well, I mean, there are pa- the book gives it a whole list-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland Of ocean fish-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland Depending on where you live. And, basically-

Studs Terkel [Sniffing]

Dr. Joseph Highland We have not contaminated the oceans to the extent we've contaminated a lot of our rivers and streams. Your better to eat fish from these other supplies. This mean- may seem like simple or even trivial suggestions, but they're not-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Dr. Joseph Highland The levels of these contaminants that you get, although they seem small, build up in your body, and a good example is that, most of us- 95, 98 percent of the American public walks around as a human storage of 10 to 20 different carcinogenic chemicals in their fat tissue- pesticides, PCBs. What that does for the individual's health, we still don't know. We do know that certain individuals who are really obese, have gone on crash diets, have had pesticide poisoning from the pesticide stored in their fat tissue. And we know that when mothers lactate, produce milk, that the contaminants go into their milk supply. We've done a study recently with vegetarian women to see if, by cutting out fat in the diet, you can minimize the contaminants in breast milk. The answer is yes. So the suggestions about diet are very important, even to the ways of cooking, the types of foods to avoid, the types of foods that are that are less fatty, whole wide variety of things are suggested.

Studs Terkel So these, you have- you have sequence in the book

Dr. Joseph Highland Yeah. Yeah, we have a whole- we discuss the problem of diet, and then we have suggestions about what dietary changes you can make-

Studs Terkel And so, not too long after the Three Mile near miss, we come to radiation-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel And we're not talking about nuclear bombs that speak for themselves.

Dr. Joseph Highland That's right.

Studs Terkel We're talking about nuclear energy-

Dr. Joseph Highland Important part of our radiation concern is the- the radiation directly from a power plant, part of it's for the waste material. The disposal problem. I think one of the largest problems that we face, and it's not, perhaps, the most visible, is, what do we do with all the nuclear waste that have to be stored for so many thousands and thousands of years? Where do we store them? How do we prevent those waste from contaminating our environment, our water supply? But, even more than that, there are other radiation problems we discuss in terms of radiation as a contaminant of coal. When we burn coal, are there radioactive materials released? There are radon daughters, which are a type of radioactive material in- in water, in gas. How can we prevent exposure to those? And that's discussed in the book. There's also a chapter in the book on children and cancer, and we try to relate some of the information again about exposures to children, exposures as fetuses. What you can do as a parent, what- what a mother can do before conception and during pregnancy to minimize risks to children?

Studs Terkel As your talking about that chapter, children and cancer. There's a classic case of the two boys in New Jersey, would you mind recounting

Dr. Joseph Highland Yeah. In in Rutherford, New Jersey there was an incident found that two children had leukemia, and the mothers of the children became concerned as to what- were they the only children? And, they were not skilled scientists, they didn't have to be, unfortunately. They went around and checked for other possible cases and came up with a startingly conclusion, that the state verified, that there was a very high incidence of this disease in the children in the area. To my knowledge, to date, there has been no cause found, but we do know that certain- in certain ways children are much more vulnerable to the effects of cancer-causing chemicals than adults, and so we try to explain without panicking people again what they can do positively to minimize risk. This is not an attempt to say, "we're killing our kids." It's an attempt to say, "what better can we do to make their lives better." You know we conclude the book by basically saying we owe our- we owe our children more than just the clothes we give them and the food that we put in their mouths. We owe them a world which is a little safer and better, and and "Malignant Neglect" is an attempt to- to be positive. To recount what's wrong, but to show what could be right-

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about that last part of the book, because it concerns what you and Ralph Nader and your colleagues call personal involvement, that- by the way, people are quick in catching on. That- I had this one thing we should hit here. This is, very often, leave it to the experts, or they know, whether it be the DC-10 builders-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right

Studs Terkel Or whether it be the maker of the cosmetic-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right

Studs Terkel Or whether it be [thise]- guys who drew scenarios for the Vietnam War-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right

Studs Terkel The experts.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. That's- that's not a good- good- good advice, plan. And I think, we were just talking about the women in Rutherford, New Jersey. If you left that to the experts, the problem would never have been found.

Studs Terkel But, the thing is, people, quote unquote ordinary people-

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel Catch on quickly-

Dr. Joseph Highland They do-

Studs Terkel Once getting the fact.

Dr. Joseph Highland And I think that we've had a failure in our whole educational system to sort of make as part of our- our growing up, if you will, a feeling that we have a responsibility to participate in a democracy, to- to- to play a role here. And, it's surprising, when you- when you see- when you give people some information, they respond quickly, they become concerned. We're seeing it more and more now, and I think you will in the future years, where we're finding hazardous waste sites, where chemicals have been dumped in the earth. Like Love Canal in New York, where the tragedies are obvious- children being born with birth defects, chemicals seeping up. Right now, with the Environmental Defense Fund, we're getting at least five to 10 calls a day from people around the country saying, "they've just found a dump site in my backyard. What does it mean? How can I get involved? What can I do?" I think people need the information. I think it can be simplified for them so that you don't need to be a biochemist like myself or an engineer. It's clear that- that people, if they put their minds to it, can understand and can make a big difference. It's an unfortunate in this society right now that they get bombarded by advertisements which convince them of the- of the needs that they have. And that they have really little time, their struggling to survive in this society. But they've gotta make time, we've gotta make it a sort of a prerequisite for continuing our society, that we become involved and we put a halt to the kinds of inadequate regulations, inadequate government performance. We can't just cut off government, and that's not the solution. We don't cut out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and think workers will be protected by industry. What we do is get in there and make it work better. And what we're saying is, in addition to the steps outlined in the book for your own life, here is a way to get involved in the whole process and become an active American.

Studs Terkel Have you found more and more chemists, doctors, they're stepping out- ordinary there's a fraternity of- of, you know, understanding, of - omerta.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right. Right. Yes. There are more and more who- people, in all professions, who are starting to step out, to give to- to be involved. I just don't think anybody in society should feel inadequate in that way. I don't understand what- what an engineer understands, but I certainly can sort of give my- my feelings and my desires to that person. I had a very interesting time in my life, it's very exempletory. I lived in Switzerland for two years, and that's a society where people participate, where everyone knows their elected representatives, where referendums appear regularly on what the government has passed. And these are the same common people as we have here deciding whether what the government just said is gonna stay or it's not gonna stay. Expressing their feelings, be it on the role of of immigrant workers in their society, when school starts, the kind of pollution to the Rhine River. Anyone in those issues, they force their representatives to explain the issues so that they understand them, so that they can work with those issues, and if the representative doesn't do it, the representative isn't reelected. And I think that's the responsibility here. There's no need to have congressmen and women, often congress and senators, who you don't know what they're doing. You don't know why they're doing it. Force them to tell you. Don't give up. It's it's not a situation that's ever going to be solved if people just give up and say, "I can't be bothered."

Studs Terkel Dr. Joseph Highland is my guest, and the book is "Malignant Neglect," and I thought, perhaps, toward the end, the last chapter, you speak of what individuals can do as far as health is concerned, of self and family and the community.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel I 'ought perhaps the last paragraph about involvement in the- in the life of the society itself.

Dr. Joseph Highland Yeah. We wrote: "but all our efforts will be successful only if we as individuals take steps both to make personal changes and to support necessary governmental regulation. If we are not convinced that the cancer problem can be solved, it won't be. Not everything causes cancer. We can win the battle if we choose to fight."

Studs Terkel "Malignant Neglect" is the book. The subtitle, which- [very?] revealing- it's an authoritative report, up-to-date, on the known or suspected cancer-causing agents in our environment and how, by controlling them, we can control the spread of cancer itself. And, the Environmental Defense Fund, the group that put it out, of which Dr. Highland is a member. Alfred Knopf, the publishers, and it's available.

Dr. Joseph Highland Right.

Studs Terkel Thank you very much.

Dr. Joseph Highland Thank you, Studs.