Once in a while, two things things land on your desk at the same time that are unrelated yet quickly become so. That’s what happened these past few days when the research report out of Texas Tech University about the cancerous effects of combined toxics and news that Eureka playground may finally be replaced.
The researchers at Texas Tech took some time to explain how the cells grew after being exposed to a combination of arsenic and estrogen. They showed signs of cancer a little differently than the traditional cancer research finds through mutations of DNA. Epigenetics is an emerging field of cancer study, tracking how genes express themselves.
Dr. Singh said it’s important to know that only a small percentage of cancers are genetic. By far, the vast majority of cancers are caused by something in the environment, from lifestyle to exposure to toxic substances. Epigenetic research appears to come a lot closer to understanding and treating those cancers.
Had I not been reminded that Denton has long been concerned about the pesticide-treated wood at Eureka, I might have focused this story on other community concerns. This combination-of-toxics-research had information that many in the community have been asking for since the beginning of the shale boom. We have 16,000 wells producing gas in 23 counties in the Barnett Shale. Area residents have asked for information on the combined effects of “safe” levels of known carcinogens, knowing that emissions from natural gas drilling and production equipment are emitting more than one toxic at a time and are minimally scrutinized.
Texas Tech’s Justin Treas said that in some cell lines they tested, but not all, the combined effect of low doses of arsenic and estrogen was synergistic.
The study is here. 2013_TheProstate (1)
And, after the story ran, Ed Soph shared this additional news about chicken feed and arsenic with me.
It may be time to ask new questions of state toxicologists who have written that low doses of multiple toxic substances pose no known threat to human health. Between new findings in epigenetics and increasing interest and understanding of endocrine disruptors, such statements may be far less authoritative than previously believed.
Toxicology is good at helping you understand how many ibuprofen tablets your toddler can accidentally ingest before you need to go to the emergency room (a toxicologist told me this once when I was working a story about how much money the health care system can save if we fund poison control centers). But the practice of extrapolating from those numbers an acceptable low dose for environmental exposure is looking increasingly irrelevant, and perhaps even deceptive.