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Massachusetts Reduces Use of Carcinogens

300 Million Pounds of Cancer-Causing Chemicals Still Used

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Although Massachusetts companies have dramatically reduced their use of carcinogens, 300 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals are still used.

By Karen Angelo

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) recently released a report showing that Massachusetts companies have dramatically reduced use and environmental releases of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer. 

Over the last two decades, use of carcinogens by Massachusetts industries reporting to the Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) program declined 32 percent while releases to the environment declined 93 percent, according to the new report. Yet Massachusetts industries still have a long way to go in order to break free from dependence on cancer causing chemicals, the report found. 

In 2010, more than 300 million pounds of known or suspected carcinogens were used and more than 500,000 pounds were released to the environment. Roughly 100 Massachusetts residents are diagnosed with cancer each day, corresponding to more than 38,000 new cases of cancer in 2012. 

“Continued work to minimize the use of carcinogens in manufacturing and services can help to reduce the burden of cancer in Massachusetts and beyond,” says Rachel Massey, the institute’s policy program manager and senior associate director and one of the authors of the report. “Reducing our exposure to chemical carcinogens in our workplaces, our environment and in our consumer products is part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent cancer.” 

The report demonstrated that some chemicals, such as perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene – chemicals made famous from the childhood leukemia cluster in Woburn and the topic of the 1998 movie, “A Civil Action” – showed steep declines in use, 85 percent and 92 percent respectively. The report also grouped the chemicals by their links with 11 specific types of cancer: bladder, brain and central nervous system, breast, kidney, leukemia, liver, lung, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, pancreas, prostate and testis. Reductions in use and environmental releases were observed for all these groups of carcinogens – those associated with lung cancer decreased 29 percent while releases to the environment decreased 77 percent. 

“These significant reductions show that when companies are required to examine their use of a toxic chemical, many find ways to use it more efficiently, while many others find options for replacing it with a safer substitute chemical or process,” says Prof. Michael Ellenbecker of Work Environment, who directs the TURI. 

Download the executive summary and full report. 

Where Does the Data Come From? 

Under TURA, facilities in certain industry sectors that use or manufacture more than a specific amount of toxic chemicals and have 10 or more full-time employees, are required to report chemical use and prepare a Toxics Use Reduction Plan to explore how they can reduce their use of toxics. The report used data collected from 1990-2010. More than 70 chemicals considered known or suspected carcinogens by authoritative sources – such as the U.S. National Toxicology Program and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer – were considered in the analysis.