Fall 2009 Regional Cancer and Environment Forum held in Weill Hall on the Cornell Campus
BCERF brought its twice-yearly Regional Cancer and Environment Forum to Weill Hall on the Cornell campus on Tuesday, September 22. Speakers engaged with participants on topics such as evidence-based practice for preventive health, BCERF’s own work on environmental estrogens, possible water resource issues associated with natural gas drilling, and new evidence linking water and air pollution to breast cancer risk. The eighty participants were professionals and lay people, some local and some coming from surrounding areas from Rochester to Binghamton. These Regional Forums are held in diverse locations around the state; this was the first held in Ithaca since Spring 2007.
Dr. Rodney Page, Alexander de Lahunta Chair of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Director of BCERF welcomed the group and moderated the day. BCERF was pleased to have Dr. Donald Tobias, Executive Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in New York City and currently the Community Engagement Core Program Director for the Clinical and Translational Science Center, Cornell Weill Medical College, speak on “Evidence-Based Practice for Preventive Health: Why Does It Make So Much Sense?” He described the challenges of moving basic research out into the community and the positioning of his New York City staff, based in the land-grant mission as it is uniquely carried out in the city, to facilitate the necessary relationships and activities. “We hire from the neighborhoods and speak five languages: English is our second language.” For this role in the unfolding translational research program, CCE educators are engaging with the community in ways ranging from traditional outreach such as health fairs, to monthly videoconferences in which Weill researchers deliver information to African-American churches.
The translational research model Dr. Tobias works to carry out between the medical college and New York City communities presents numerous similarities with BCERF’s own model. BCERF also creates a cyclical process by which the community is involved in every stage of making research data accessible for preventive health. Dr. Suzanne Snedeker, Associate Director for Translational Research at BCERF, presented “Lipstick to Laundry Detergents: Avoiding Environmental Estrogens in Everyday Products,” a multi-media project which involves young women in creating and disseminating information and strategies for breast cancer risk reduction. Dr. Snedeker presented BCERF’s approach for avoiding environmental estrogens in several realms of daily life: cosmetics and personal care products, certain plastics, and estrogenic waste that goes out to the broader environment through detergents and electronics. See the videos and accompanying scientific background at several levels of detail at: http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/research/endocrine/videos/
BCERF Forums highlight an issue of local environmental health importance in the region in which the event takes place. Possible water resource issues associated with natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale stood out as the issue to feature while holding the event here in the Southern Tier. The new technique of hydraulic fracturing has generated public questioning about environmental effects. A researcher from the US Geological Survey, William Kappel, provided the technical background for discussion, reviewing all aspects of the technology as well as water issues ranging from sourcing, to contents of the fluids used, to disposal: “no (waste water) system is designed to treat everything, including all that chemistry,” he said. A panel of six, including Kappel, Department of Microbiology faculty member Dr. Anthony Hay, Community Science Institute founder Dr. Stephen Penningroth, mother, farmer and community organizer Autumn Stoscheck, Caroline Town Supervisor Don Barber, and aide to Representative Maurice Hinchey, Dan Lamb, expressed their perspectives on gas development in the region. For additional Cornell resources on this topic see: http://gasleasing.cce.cornell.edu and http://wri.eas.cornell.edu.
Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an internationally recognized expert on the environmental links to cancer and human health, and author of the highly acclaimed book, “Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment,” closed the day with her talk “New Evidence Linking Water and Air Pollution to Breast Cancer.” Dr. Steingraber, a Scholar in Residence in the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Ithaca College and former visiting professor in the BCERF program, proposed five phenomena that are ushering in a new era of research in environment as a determinant of health. Those include: the field of epigenetics (which refers to all modifications to genes other than changes in the DNA sequence itself); new findings in epidemiological research; the particular cancers for which rates continue to rise (those which are not seen as linked to genetic or lifestyle factors such as Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, pediatric brain cancers, and multiple myeloma); biomonitoring efforts in which breakthroughs in analytic chemistry are allowing researchers to determine levels of exposure to chemicals in the population; and the focus on human health effects of climate change. Steingraber referred back to water resource concerns of hydraulic fracturing while she surveyed new evidence of links between environment and breast cancer. She encouraged the group to become educated and not believe we can “opt out of the local water cycle,” through buying bottled water. “Because of dermal absorption of contaminants, a ten-minute hot shower is like drinking a half-gallon of water; we are 65% water ourselves and have an intimate relationship with public water systems.”