Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cancer in East Asia, Health in Taiwan

A petting zoo near my house has an ostrich. Must be tough on the kids.

Pfizer has a very interesting report on Cancer in Asia which a friend of mine flipped me.
This report presents cancer statistics for fifteen South Asian and Southeast Asian countries: Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia, India, Laos, and Cambodia. For purposes of comparison, statistics are also presented for the United States.
Among its findings:
  • Among the 15 Asian countries the highest incidence rates (age-standardized) for total cancer (all sites) in males are in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan; female total cancer incidence rates are highest in Taiwan, Singapore, and Philippines.
  • Lung cancer is the most common or second-most common cancer among males in all Asian countries but for India, Japan, Mongolia, and Taiwan.
  • Stomach cancer is the highest incident-rate cancer among both males and females in Korea; it is the most common among females in China, and the most common among males in Japan.
  • Among females, breast cancer is the highest incident cancer in 7 countries— Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan.
  • 41% of all new cancers diagnosed in males, and 37% of cancers diagnosed in females are in the fifteen Asian countries—about 3 times as many cases as that in the United States.
The data are taken from a 2005 report for Taiwan, and are probably out of date.

A couple of friends of mine have also raised the problem of arsenic and other toxins in the air Taiwan. Groundwater arsenic is a well-recognized problem and there are numerous studies of it, including of the famous blackfoot disease in southern Taiwan. Groundwater arsenic is not caused by the IT industry and thus is safe to investigate. But there seems to be little on arsenic and other airborne toxin exposure from power plants and factories. It's long been recognized that the dominance of the IT industry (and here and here) means that the government has looked the other way when those industries pollute downwind and downstream. This is true of all industries. Paul Jobin's piece entitled Hazards and Protests in the "Green Silicon Island" in 2010 notes:
Between 1988 and 1991, along with their opposition to the construction of the fourth nuclear plant, environmental activists and intellectuals joined in solidarity with the Dawu aboriginal people to protest the storage of nuclear wastes in Lanyu (Orchid Island). (16) Around the same time, the magazine Renjian reported on the sudden deaths of temporary workers employed in the maintenance of the existing three nuclear plants.(17) Ten years later, the situation has not improved: despite Taipower’s denial, most workers, though exposed to high levels of radiation, did not have the appropriate regular health checks. (18) An epidemiological survey found that the population living between the two nuclear plants near Jinshan, 20 kilometres north of Taipei, had elevated blood cell counts that could induce hazardous consequences for health. (19) Another survey near the research reactor of the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research based in Taoyuan, south of Taipei, revealed abnormal levels of Cesium 137, a highly radioactive isotope. (20) Around 1992, the fear of nuclear power became even more palpable for the urban middle-class with the scandal of 200 buildings containing steel bars contaminated by cobalt 60, which put at risk more than 10,000 citizens and students.(21)
After a review of the early protests against poisonous factories in Lukang and in Linyuan, against which the government deployed the full martial law apparatus, including death sentences for the protesters (suspended), he observes that the famous RCA factory ushered in the chemical and technology industries that are poisoning Taiwan today, and observes:
But RCA and the launch of the electronics industry in Taiwan share another legacy, as RCA’s Taoyuan plant is the likely cause of at least 1,200 known cases of cancers among its former workers, mostly women, as well as permanent pollution in the vicinity of the plants. (37) The RCA plants were shut down in 1991, but other cases remain hidden, as all electronics plants continue to use massive quantities of chemical products. (38) Many of those products have known toxicity for humans, and many are carcinogens. Given the complexity of carcinogenesis, especially when many different forms are at stake, and due to the long latency between exposure to the products and the appearance of cancer, there is reason to focus now on conditions at other electronics companies and science parks, and not to wait for the next RCA-type issue to emerge. But the task is daunting, mainly because of the direct economic benefit of the electronics industry to the nearby cities of Hsinchu, Chupei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, and because of its strategic importance to the Taiwanese economy. The epidemiologist Chen Pau-chung, who has conducted one of the few retrospective cohort studies on semiconductor fabrication at the Hsinchu Science-based industrial Park (HSP), found that female workers who were exposed to chlorinated organic solvents during pregnancy might show increased risk of cancer among their children—especially leukaemia—while the offspring of male workers might have an increased risk of infant mortality and congenital cardiac malformation. (39) So far there has been no equivalent survey concerning the population living near the science parks.
You live near a science park? Only the gods know what you're breathing... few people have the courage of Chan Chang-chuan, who was involved in the epidemiological survey work for the Linyuan naptha cracker, and then went on to look at the Mailiao complex in 2009. His results have been attacked by the company and by other scientists and politicians. Two years ago Tsuang Ben-jei of NCHU was sued by the Formosa Plastics Group for a study opposing the construction of the new naptha cracker in Changhua, which thankfully was not built. It's not a surprise there's so little work out there.

There is one long-term study out there, which Chan participated in. It is open access: "Our findings suggested that life expectancy lengthening was slowed and income growth was stalled for residents living in the industrial communities."
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

The flyer is an interesting link and has a lot of good tidbits but when you look at the numbers, at least for Taiwan versus the a United States, you are likely seeing the influence of smoking as a cofactor rather than industrial pollution (see the charts about esophageal cancer, especially for men). The other issue would be the high incidence of liver cancer, which likely comes from endemic Hepatitis.

Overall it doesn't paint a picture of a society being poisoned by local industry, though.

Michael Turton said...

It's only for selected cancers.


Anonymous said...

Environmental heavy metals are a major source of cancer in Changhua county. And local tap water in Taipei is a chemo drug cocktail - they have yet to find a way to filter it out of the drinking water.

Anonymous said...

I believe diet to be partly to blame, more so than environmental pollutions. People in Taiwan eat a lot of fried foods and also stir-fry dishes using vegetable oils (the bad types like soybean or cottonseed) heated to high temperatures. Dishes cooked in these methods, particularly meats and carbohydrate-rich foods, produce carcinogenic by-products such as AGEs and acrylamides. Factor in also the chemicals and antibiotics in meat, it's little wonder why Cancer affects so many in Taiwan. Jenny, California, USA

Michael Turton said...

Anon, fried foods is an excellent point.


alan said...

Dont forget the constant lifetime exposure to the incense burned at temples for the majority of taiwanese population..

transentry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
transentry said...

This is a sequence of events often typical,
On the way to the kitchen, vegetables and dry foods openly sold on top of gutters pick up bacteria, dust, tire rubber, and exhaust;
Kitchens overrun by roaches that end up in dishwater are blasted by industrial aerosol insecticides. The same kitchens clean up using wet rags used after a scrub for the chopping block, countertops and to moisten cash counting fingers that handle sandwich bread and lettuce.
Foods fried in industrial oils and accented with plentiful MSG and other chems is mixed, stored and served in colorful plastic containers.
Then boiling hot take-out food is transported by plastic bags and styrofoam.