What is Causing Sark’s Cancers? (Part 2)

On 10 April 2013, at their Easter meeting, Chief Pleas approved the spending of £5,000 to test electromagnetic radiation levels on Sark, because of a concern that the said radiation may be causing cancers.

Two young people on Sark were recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, a kind of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called Burkitt’s lymphoma. In the Sarkee Times on 25 January 2013, we noted that the incidence rate of brain cancer on Sark is also extraordinarily high. Our analysis of the possible causes of these cancers, published there, concluded that it was unlikely that these cancers were caused by electromagnetic radiation from the mobile phone tower, by the radioactive granite or by a nuclear power plant in nearby France, while random chance and genetic homogeneity of Sark’s population could not be discounted and Sark’s incinerator was very likely to play a role.

Countless studies have been performed of a possible causal link between mobile phone masts and cancer and all the evidence suggests that there is no link whatsoever. The situation with incinerators is exactly the opposite. Numerous studies have been performed, finding compelling evidence that incinerators cause cancers, particularly cancers of tissues exposed to the air (lung cancer, skin cancer, cancer of oral and nasal cavities) and cancers of fatty tissues (including tissues rich in nerves like the brain, breast, bone marrow, liver, testicles, etc.). The reason for this is that incinerators release non-water-soluble carcinogenic materials into the atmosphere; these are then either inhaled or they find their way into the food chain where they enter the body and accumulate in the body’s fat reservoirs, rarely, if ever, leaving the body again.

Our 25 January 2013 article was partly re-published by the Sark Newsletter and was therefore available to all the Chief Pleas members. It is therefore disappointing to see our Conseillers waste a large (for Sark) amount of public funds paying for a study which is bound to find nothing, while ignoring an activity which is known to be seriously carcinogenic.

While disappointing, sadly it is not also surprising, as our Chairman of the Public Health Committee has, in our view, a not insignificant conflict of interest of also being in charge of Sark’s incinerator.

We urge those of our readers who care about their health to read the 4th Report of the British Society for Ecological Medicine, Second Edition entitled “The Health Effects of Waste Incinerators”, edited by Dr Jeremy Thompson and Dr Honor Anthony, with contributions by Professor C. Vyvyan Howard and other noted academics. We present some excerpts from this report below.

Worryingly, brain cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are precisely two of the cancer types expressly named in this report as being a likely consequence of incinerator emissions.


the weight of evidence, collected within this report, is sufficient in the authors’ opinion to call for the phasing out of incineration as a way of dealing with our waste. … The accumulated evidence on the health risks of incinerators is simply too strong to ignore and their use cannot be justified … We therefore conclude that no more incinerators should be approved. … Incinerators presently contravene basic human rights as stated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in particular the Right to Life under the European Human Rights Convention, but also the Stockholm Convention and the Environmental Protection Act of 1990. … incinerators … will generate substantial health costs as well as increasing mortality. … The health costs of incineration are huge. … a single incinerator can generate health costs of many millions of pounds every year … it is absurd to argue that incinerators are safe.


Large epidemiological studies have shown higher rates of adult and childhood cancers and of birth defects around incinerators. … Professor George Knox … found that children born in “pollution hotspots” were two to four times more likely to die from childhood cancer. The “hotspots” included sites … around incinerators … in most cases, the mother had inhaled these toxic substances and they were then passed on to the foetus through the placenta. … the incinerators’ emissions contributed to the children’s cancer deaths. … In 1996, Elliott et al. published a major study in which they compared the numbers of registered cancer cases within 3 km and within 7.5 km of … municipal waste incinerator sites … with the number of cases expected. … In each set there was an excess of all cancers near the incinerators, and excesses separately of stomach, colorectal, liver and lung cancers … incinerators are the major source of emissions of dioxins into the air … Dioxin releases over the last few decades have caused widespread contamination of food, significant toxic body burdens in nearly all human beings … The damage already done by incinerators has been incalculable. … Eighteen separate assessments of dioxin’s carcinogenicity have involved five different routes of exposure, five different species, low and high doses and long or short exposure times. In every case dioxins have caused cancer, involving nine different types of cancer, including lymphomas, cancers of the lung, liver, skin, soft tissue and of the oral and nasal cavities … These risks … represented a total of over 11,000 extra cancer deaths near incinerators and were highly significant (p <0.001 for each). ... Japan built 73% of all the municipal waste incinerators in the world and by 1997 had become very concerned about their health effects: in the village of Shintone, 42% of all deaths between 1985-95 in the area up to 1.2 km to leeward of an incinerator (built in 1971) were due to cancer, compared to 20% further away and 25% overall in the local prefecture ... The studies may have underestimated the risks. At 13 years, the follow-up period of the large British study was probably too short: at Sint Niklaas adult cancer cases seemed to increase from 13 years onward (although children’s cancers occurred earlier), and in Japan, Ohta noted that cancer caused 42% of all deaths in the lee of incinerators from 14 to 24 years after the incinerator was commissioned. The reported risks were higher in the studies in which allowance was made for the direction of prevailing winds, possibly because of dilution elsewhere by relatively unexposed persons. ... it is clearly incorrect to claim that incinerators are safe ... it is a matter of considerable concern that incinerators have been introduced without a comprehensive system to study their health effects, and that further incinerators are being planned without comprehensive monitoring either of emissions or of the health of the local population. ... Incinerators emit carcinogens. ... Common sense dictates that it is reckless to continue to pour more carcinogens into the air at a time when cancer is steadily increasing.

Which cancers?

Steep rises in cancer have occurred in tissues directly exposed to the environment: the lung and skin. But some of the steepest rises have occurred in parts of the body with high fat content, including cancers of the brain, breast, bone marrow and liver. This again points to toxic chemicals which are predominantly stored in the fatty tissues. … Many of the compounds are known to be not only toxic but bio-accumulative and persistent. They include compounds that have been reported to affect the immune system, attach to chromosomes, disrupt hormone regulation, trigger cancer, alter behaviour, and lower intelligence. … Most chemical pollutants are lipophilic and are therefore not easily washed away by the rain after they settle. When they land on crops they enter the food chain where they bioaccumulate. It has already been admitted that most dioxin in food today in the UK came from the older generation of incinerators. … Most toxic compounds are preferentially stored in fatty tissue and this includes the brain – making the brain a key target organ for pollutants.

Incinerators not only cause cancer, they also facilitate cancers to metastasize:

Airborne pollutants not only affect the chance of contracting cancer but may also influence the chance of the cancer spreading. … inhalation … of … polluted … air, facilitated blood-borne cancer cell metastasis.

Lung cancer

The population living round an incinerator is being exposed to multiple chemical carcinogens, and to fine particulates … all known to increase lung cancer … an increase in the incidence of lung cancer has been reported around incinerators. … Biggeri et al. in 1996 compared 755 lung cancer deaths in Trieste with controls in relation to smoking, probable occupational exposure to carcinogens and air pollution … the strongest correlation was with the incinerator … In 1989 Gustavsson reported a twofold increase in lung cancer in incinerator workers in Sweden compared to the expected local rate. In 1993 he reported a 1.5 fold increase in oesophageal cancer in combustion workers, including those working in incinerators.

Lymphoma and sarcoma

One of the three most rapidly rising cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has been clearly linked with exposure to certain chemicals [released from incinerators]. … Viel et al 2000 looked at the incidence of soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma … in two areas close to an incinerator with high emission of dioxin. They found highly significant clusters of soft tissue sarcoma … and of non-Hodgkins lymphoma … This study … was designed to look both in a focussed way at the area round the incinerator, and to check the association … which should be present if the relationship was causal. Both … analyses were positive close to the incinerator – demonstrating that a causal relationship was likely … Numerous other studies have shown links between cancer and chemicals: … increases in lymphoma … and high rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma … Comba found an increased incidence of soft tissue sarcoma in an Italian population living within 2 km of an incinerator … Zambon et al … calculated dioxin exposure from incinerators … in patients with sarcoma … and found the risk of sarcoma increased with the extent and duration of exposure to dioxin.

Heart attacks and strokes

very high releases of dioxins … arise during the start-up and shut-down of incinerators … these dangerously high emissions will not be detected by present monitoring systems for dioxins. … More data has also been released on the dangers to health of ultrafine particulates and about the risks of other pollutants released from incinerators … With each publication the hazards are becoming more obvious and more difficult to ignore. … important new data has been published strengthening the evidence that fine particulate pollution plays an important role in both cardiovascular and cerebrovascular mortality … and that the danger is greater than previously realised.

Gustavsson found an excess of ischaemic heart disease in incinerator workers … particulate pollution, especially the fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution, which is typical of incinerator emissions, is an important contributor to heart disease, lung cancer, and an assortment of other diseases …

Immune system

… there is abundant evidence that a large number of the pollutants emitted by incinerators can cause damage to the immune system …

Other diseases

Incinerator emissions do not only cause cancer, but also many other diseases. In addition to brain cancer, they also cause many other disorders caused by brain dysfunction — emotional and psychiatric disorders, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, autism, dyslexia, ADHD, learning difficulties, etc.:

Fine particulates formed in incinerators in the presence of toxic metals and organic toxins (including those known to be carcinogens), adsorb these pollutants and carry them into the blood stream and into the cells of the body. … Toxic metals accumulate in the body and have been implicated in a range of emotional and behavioural problems in children including autism, dyslexia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning difficulties, and delinquency, and in problems in adults including violence, dementia, depression and Parkinson’s disease. Increased rates of autism and learning disabilities have been noted to occur around sites that release mercury into the environment. Toxic metals are universally present in incinerator emissions and present in high concentrations in the fly ash. … other compounds such as PCBs and dioxins cause cognitive defects, learning problems and behavioural disturbances in children and these effects occur at levels previously thought to be safe … It is inconceivable that these same pollutants have no impact on adult brain function. … this … can have major implications for a population … a 5 point drop of IQ in the population reduces by 50% the number of gifted children (IQ above 120) and increases by 50% the number with borderline IQ (below 80). This can have profound consequences for a society, especially if the drop in IQ is accompanied by behavioural changes. … Air pollution correlates with inpatient admissions with organic brain syndrome, schizophrenia, major affective disorders, neurosis, behavioural disorder of childhood and adolescence, personality disorder and alcoholism … psychiatric emergency room visits and in schizophrenia … Depression has also been linked to inhaled pollutants.

But the damage is not limited to the nervous tissues. According to the report, emissions from incinerators also cause respiratory diseases (asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), early puberty, endometriosis, reduced sperm counts and other disorders of male reproductive tissues and thyroid disruption.

A number of … epidemiological studies … suggest that the range of illnesses produced by incinerators may be much wider. … many of the pollutants bioaccumulate, enter the food chain and can cause chronic illnesses over time and over a much wider geographical area … Higher levels of fine particulates [produced by incinerators] have been associated with an increased prevalence of asthma and [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] … children who did more outdoor sport had greater declines in respiratory function. We are doing a great disservice to our children if they cannot pursue healthy activities without damaging their health.

Pollution is Carried a Long Way

The pollution caused by the incinerator at the harbour is not limited only to the harbour area, it is carried throughout the island.

The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, that was established to advise the US government, concluded that it was not only the health of workers and local populations that would be affected by incinerators. They reported that populations living more distantly are also likely to be exposed to incinerator pollutants. … Persistent air pollutants, such as dioxins, furans and mercury can be dispersed over large regions – well beyond local areas … A striking example … has been seen in Nunavut, in the far North of Canada … The Inuit mothers here have twice the level of dioxins in their breast milk as Canadians living in the South, although there is no source of dioxin within 300 miles … the leading contributors to the pollution in Nunavut were three municipal incinerators in the USA.

Damage is (Very!) Long Term

… can increase the risk of cancer by activating oncogenes and blocking anti-tumour genes. This raises a very serious concern. This concern is that … we may not only be poisoning this generation but the next. Carcinogenesis from chemicals being passed on through several generations is not just a horrifying scenario but has been demonstrated to occur in animals. Incinerator emissions would greatly increase this risk.

Modern Incinerators are Worse, not Better

It has been claimed that modern abatement procedures render the emissions from incinerators safe, but this is impossible to establish and would apply only to emissions generated under standard operating conditions. Of much more concern are non-standard operating conditions including start-up and shutdown when large volumes of pollutants are released within a short period of time. Two of the most hazardous emissions – fine particulates and heavy metals – are relatively resistant to removal. The safety of new incinerator installations cannot be established in advance and, although rigorous independent health monitoring might give rise to suspicions of adverse effects on the foetus and infant within a few years, this type of monitoring has not been put in place, and in the short term would not reach statistical significance for individual installations. Other effects, such as adult cancers, could be delayed for at least ten to twenty years.

Incinerators produce two types of ash, bottom ash and fly ash … The latter is highly toxic and listed as an absolute hazardous substance in the European Waste Catalogue. It has high concentration of heavy metals and dioxins. Many substances such as metals have little toxicity before incineration but become hazardous once converted to particulates or fine particles in the ash. In fact, the combination of pollutants in the fly ash can amplify the toxicity. Using a biological test, researchers found that the toxicity in fly ash was five times greater than could be accounted for by the content of dioxins, furans and PCBs.

There is a basic problem with modern incinerators. The less air pollution produced, the more toxic the ash. Early incinerators emitted large volumes of dioxins. These emissions have been significantly reduced, but at the cost of a corresponding increase in the fly ash, with similar increases in heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. … Apart from vitrification, no adequate method of disposing of fly ash has been found. Fly ash needs to be transported away from the incinerator and this can involve lengthy journeys. These represent an important hazard. An accident could potentially make an area uninhabitable, as happened at Times Beach, Missouri … The Stockholm Convention makes it clear that dioxins and furans should be destroyed, which currently means using vitrification.

Modern incinerators produce fly ash which is much more toxic than in the past, containing large quantities of dioxin-rich material for which there is no safe method of disposal, except vitrification, a method not being used in the UK.

In other words, the only way to safely dispose of the ash is by burying it into glass!

Birth defects, embryos, infants

Large studies have shown higher rates of adult and childhood cancer and also birth defects around municipal waste incinerators: the results are consistent with the associations being causal. … studies of populations exposed to incinerator emissions or of occupational exposure to incinerators … show higher-than-expected levels of cancer and birth defects in the local population and increased ischaemic heart disease has been reported in incinerator workers … There have been … reports of increases in [birth defects] around incinerators. The investigators at Sint Niklaas noted multiple birth defects to leeward of the incinerator. Orofacial defects and other midline defects were found to be more than doubled near an incinerator in Zeeburg, Amsterdam. Most of these deformed babies were born in an area corresponding to wind-flow from the incinerator and other defects included hypospadius and spina bifida. In the Neerland area, Belgium, there was a 26% increase in [birth defects] in an area situated between two incinerators. A study of incinerators in France has shown … major anomalies (facial clefts, megacolon, renal dysplasias). A recent British study looked at births in Cumbria between 1956 and 1993 and reported significantly increased lethal birth defects around incinerators … There was an increased risk of stillbirth …

The unborn child is … most vulnerable … The foetus is uniquely susceptible to toxic damage and early exposures can have life changing consequences. Why is the foetus so vulnerable? … most of these chemicals are fat soluble. The foetus has virtually no protective fat stores until very late pregnancy so the chemicals are stored in the only fatty tissues it has, namely its own nervous system and particularly the brain.

The greatest concern is the long-term effects of incinerator emissions on the developing embryo and infant, and the real possibility that genetic changes will occur and be passed on to succeeding generations.

… breast milk … has now become the most contaminated food on the planet … studies of human breast milk have shown that 90% of samples contained a disturbing 350 chemicals … inhalation of these toxic substances is an important factor. The dose taken in by a breast-feeding baby is 50 times higher than that taken in by an adult. The incinerator would add to the total load of chemicals in the mother’s fat and those toxins accumulated over a lifetime by the mother will then be transferred to the tiny body of her baby through her milk. Six months of breast feeding will transfer 20% of the mother’s lifetime accumulation … to the child. … one in four samples of breast milk have been found to be over the legal limit … and these are known to impair intellectual development.

Incinerator or the gene pool?

WHO data has demonstrated that 80% of cancers are due to environmental influences, and evidence from migrant studies confirms that it is mainly the environment rather than the genes that determine the cancer risk.

1 comment for “What is Causing Sark’s Cancers? (Part 2)

Leave a Reply