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Cancer and Environment week – November 2010

In November, HEAL hosted a series of events to raise awareness of the links between cancer causation and involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals in our everyday environments. The Cancer and Environment week included a policy discussion in the European Parliament, a public film screening, an NGO workshop on pesticides and health and the launch of a French cancer and environment awareness campaign.


MEPs to be urged to address "missing link" in fight against cancer Cancer survivors and health groups want European leaders to improve environmental policy that could hold down rising incidence rates. At a debate in the European Parliament organised by HEAL on Monday 29th November, Sandra Steingraber - a scientist, cancer survivor and author of Living Downstream talked about the ways in which environmental policy can tackle the links between exposure to environmental pollutants and cancer, and lessons were exchanged on regulatory responses.

Sandra Steingraber says that although scientists are well aware of the role environmental factors are playing in cancer, the public and politicians are not yet sufficiently aware. "The disconnect between what we in the scientific community know and what patients are told is huge," she told MEPs, health, environment and patient groups, and scientists in a debate illustrated with excerpts from her new film, Living Downstream. She sees her role as helping to close that gap.

The session was introduced by Sirpa Pietikainen MEP who spoke about the need to bringing environmental factors into the cancer debate. The panel also heard from Viorica Cursaru, Myeloma Euronet, European Cancer Patients’ Coalition (ECPC) who discussed the situation in Romania, as an example of an EU country where the government is not yet ensuring that minimum EU standards for health and environment are being met. She linked this observation to cancer rates.

At the end of her presentation, Sandra Steingraber called on participants to join a worldwide health and environment movement made up of "carcinogen abolitionists". Genon Jensen, HEAL’s Executive Director, added that the movement in Europe aims to phase out not only the chemicals that are "carcinogens" but also the endocrine disrupting chemicals that act as a contributory factor in triggering cancer, and other health disorders.

HEAL joined forces with the European Cancer Patients Coalition and Forum Against Cancer Europe to organise this event. The aim is to raise awareness and highlight prevention opportunities in EU environmental policies. The partnership helped to bring the message and advocacy opportunity to over three-hundred national cancer groups within the EU.

In preparation, cancer groups compiled ‘Environment and Cancer testimonies’, which provide a snapshot of various patients’ groups’ concerns and priorities for action on environmental prevention by member states and the EU. The testimonies show that cancer patients are increasingly concerned about chemicals in our environment, and want the environment cleaned up to help them avoid a recurrence. For example, a Belgium patient notes that many farmers in his neighbourhood are still using forbidden pesticides. These concerns reflect public opinion surveys findings in the EU. A recent Eurobarometer shows that pesticide residues in food are a number one worry for 72% of EU consumers, a higher percentage than in 2005.


Workshop: Reducing pesticide use across Europe for better health Health and environment groups from throughout the European Union gathered in Brussels to discuss strategies for pesticides reduction. The workshop, hosted by HEAL and Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) formed the first meeting of HEAL’s Sick of Pesticides network which will act as a platform to exchange information on the setting up of pesticide-free areas and to establish the next steps as countries prepare National Action plans for pesticide reduction. The meeting particularly focused on the core campaign countries of the UK, France, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands.

European Premiere of Living Downstream HEAL hosted the European premiere of the groundbreaking film on cancer and environmental causation, Living Downstream. Sandra Steingraber joined us again to introduce the film, which is based on her acclaimed book of the same name, and to host a discussion session after the screening.

The well-attended screening was hosted in Mundo B, Brussels in collaboration with Friends of the Earth Europe and CEE Bankwatch. The film is available to order on Sandra’s website. If you are interested in hosting a screening please do get in touch, the film is available to public interest organisations to use in education and awareness-raising. There will also be a community guide, which HEAL is contributing to, to help non-profit organisations, labour unions, medical professionals, community groups, and grassroots activists to use the film in a variety of ways in their work. Watch the Living Downstream trailer .


"Toxic menu" press conference launches campaign in France Générations Futures (formerly MDRGF) and HEAL revealed results of tests on typical meals in France to launch the "Environnement et Cancer" campaign on 1 December 2010. Read more...

Film screening to European Commission’s cancer support group HEAL also organised a screening of the Living Downstream film for the European Commission’s cancer support group. The Cancer Support group is for people working in the European Commission whose lives have been touched by cancer. Sandra Steingraber joined us again to introduce the film, and discuss questions with participants after the screening. The discussion explored particularly chemicals in water and safe drinking sources.

Accompanying documentation:

European Parliament event: Agenda

European Parliament event: Biographies of speakers

Questions on cancer and the environment

Levels of cancer incidence growth in the EU

Food-related risks, Special Eurobarometer 354, November 2010

Press coverage:

01 December 2010 - The Ecologist, CAMPAIGN PROFILE: Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)

01 December 2010 - The Ecologist, Sandra Steingraber: There’s a taboo about telling industry and agriculture that practices must change to prevent cancer

30 November 2010 - The European Parliament magazine, EU urged to protect citizens from ’cancer-causing pollutants’

Last updated on 19 May 2011

About HEAL

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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