Letters: Chemicals and cancer

Don't dismiss possible links between chemicals and cancer


Sir: For Sir Richard Peto to say that the environmental risk hypothesis of breast cancer is "rubbish" is to ignore the considerable scientific evidence that many everyday chemicals act like oestrogen in the body ("The growth of breast cancer", 29 September).

In the 30 years that breast cancer incidence rates have doubled, as your article states, the prevention advice from the UK government has remained consistently focused on individual lifestyle factors. More of the same will give us more of the same. A programme of genuine primary prevention that addresses exposures which may be implicated in breast cancer causation, particularly at especially vulnerable times in women's lives (puberty and peri-menopausally) might, on the other hand, help contribute to lowering breast cancer incidence rates.

In Ontario and California governments are initiating such public health measures. Must the UK lag behind because epidemiology is resistant to new hypotheses of risk and exposure?



Sir: It is very disappointing to read that such an influential person as Professor Peto dismisses as "rubbish" the suggestion that there are links between chemicals and cancer. Proving causality between chemicals and cancer is extremely difficult to do, given the fact that we are all exposed to thousands of different chemicals right from the moment of conception, and earlier still if you include parental exposure.

Nonetheless, two recent reviews done by the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the University of Liverpool have looked at numerous scientific studies and found that there may very well be a relationship between cancer and the chemicals that are ubiquitous in modern life.



Climate: action still fails to match words

Sir: Tony Allcock's letter (29 September), drawing attention to the poor response to climate change by local government, comes as no surprise.

Recently I had a planning application, for six houses, turned down because they looked different from those nearby - 1960 houses built to low standards of insulation, with no regard to orientation and passive warming. The type of construction which is at the root of climate change and profligate use of energy.

The proposed houses incorporated very high standards of insulation, rainwater harvesting, solar and photo-voltaic panels and ground source healing. Local people complained that "they did not fit in", which is true: a new problem requires a new answer.

I am also having a dispute with the Welsh ancient buildings authority. They do not allow photovoltaic or solar panels on listed buildings, even when they are incorporated in the most sensitive way. Historically, every generation has adopted old buildings to suit current requirements and standards. Chimneys were added to medieval buildings, for example. These same buildings are now listed and protected, adaptations and all.

If a barn or redundant old building is to be given a new lease of life it should incorporate accommodation compatible with the priorities of today. Sustainability is enshrined in the Welsh Assembly constitution, but there is a real lack of commitment to address the gravity of the situation and set higher standards. We need innovation, courage and action, qualities lacking in all levels of government.



Sir: Comments made by Environment Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday last week went largely unnoticed by the media despite the fact that his statement contained one of the most stunning admissions by the UK Government on global warming. Mr Miliband warned that "we had to be scared about global warming", and that it was time for action as he considered the scientific debate "over".

While it is encouraging that the Labour Government has finally realised what most "green" organisations have been shouting about for years, it is extremely disappointing when the Environment Secretary's only "big idea" on how to deal with the problem appears to be the "mass scale" roll out of carbon-free fuel.

With only a 10-year window of opportunity to deal effectively with global warming, we cannot continue to focus on bio-fuels and other low-carbon technologies alone to save the planet because no one appears to know if they will deliver the required cuts in CO2 emissions in time.

How long before Mr Miliband concedes that we have to be "really, really scared" because his Government do not have the political will to deliver real CO2 reductions year-on-year.



Age bias affects people of all ages

Sir: I am shocked that the writers of your recent comment pieces on the new Age Discrimination Act took such ageist views. Joan Bakewell (29 September) in particular, claimed the Act for older people and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (2 October) threw little more than a glance the way of the young people in the workplace. The Age Discrimination Act belongs to no age group; by its nature it is ageless.

From a recruitment consultant's point of view, the main benefit of the new legislation is to encourage applications from wider pools of suitable candidates. Too often, poor quality advertising - referring to number of years' experience rather than skills - has discouraged suitable candidates from applying for jobs.

Real discrimination is not the name-calling in the workplace that seems to be such an issue to Ms Alibhai-Brown; rather it is subtly using language to hold people back from applying for roles because they feel their application will not be fairly processed.



High price of the motor car

Sir: Never mind the selfishness of speeding drivers (letter, 2 October), all motorists are responsible, not only for their role in climate change, environmental degradation and respiratory problems, but for their violent removal of children's traditional freedom to play outside their own homes. Street games used to provide easy outdoor recreation and social interaction; cars have driven children indoors to TV, PCs and junk food.

Isn't it time to face the fact that society has a "problem" with the car as compelling as alcohol and heroin? I imagine I own my car, but actually it owns me. Isn't it time to admit that every time we switch on the engine, we not only make a personal contribution to planetary catastrophe, we deny our children's right to roam?

Isn't it time we all asked whether the freedom granted us by the motor car isn't dramatically outweighed by its many negative impacts? Isn't it time to bin the beast, invest with a passion in beautiful public transport and to make friends again with our legs?



Sir: I could not agree more with Mark Riddiford's letter, headed "Speed cameras are bad for road safety" (28 September).

I live in Lyon where the French authorities have followed the English example and introduced a plague of speed cameras. French motorways have varying speed limits and on different stretches of the same road the limit may be 50km/h, 70, 90, 110 or the maximum 130. Having been caught several times, with consequent fines and loss of points on my licence, I now find my eyes are glued to the car's speedometer rather than to the road.

Does this behaviour improve road safety? I don't think so.



Sir: If you look at the insurance statistics you will find that men have fewer accidents per mile than women (letter, 28 September). The reason men have more accidents overall is that they drive more.



Too few beds for hospital patients

Sir: I was frustrated to read an article on Government News Network titled "More people treated as general bed numbers decrease". The Government again claim to have proof of improved patient services and improved efficiency linked to reducing the number of staffed and open beds.

As a surgeon in an acute hospital, my experience is entirely different. The recent closure of a surgical ward has resulted in shunting of patients from ward to ward, surgical emergencies placed on medical or orthopaedic wards, and a shortage of beds for elective operating lists. Critical care beds have not been available to ill patients after surgery as there are too few ward beds to accept improved critical care patients.

Genuine attempts to improve efficiency should be applauded, but hospitals cannot be run like supermarkets.



The big gap in Blair's legacy

Sir: It is a bit early to write the Prime Minister's political obituary. However his noteworthy speech at Labour's party conference suggests certain reflections. In many policy areas he has been absolutely right. Realistically there was no option but to go into Iraq and to support the Afghan government. His attempts to improve the performance of our schools and hospitals has been laudable.

The big gap is in constitutional reform. Here his understandable desire to give Scotland and Wales their own assemblies has created a curiously hybrid situation in what was formerly a classical unitary state. For one so dedicated to modernisation the failure to tackle Lords reform and the voting system is quite difficult to understand. Effectively he has left to his Labour, and possibly other, successors the task of achieving the new constitutional settlement the country so badly needs.



Sir: There has been much talk recently of Tony Blair's "legacy" but strangely no reference to one major achievement, namely the fact that since his appearance at the door of 10 Downing Street drinking tea out of a mug rather than a cup, such demonstrations of solidarity with the proletariat have become de rigueur among politicians of all parties.



Sir: Once you start rewriting history you can never stop. The next rewrite has begun in a bid to convince the public that, really, we had no say in what was to happen in Iraq after the invasion, that what has happened is all the Americans' fault, and that, in any meaningful sense, we aren't there at all ("Ministers break taboo of criticising Bush", 30 September).

The beauty of this scenario is that there won't even be the need to deny the relationship between Iraq and "terrorism" because Iraq didn't happen.

With both the Government and the Tories complicit in denial it is up to the Liberal Democrats to keep the truth alive and to revive their call for the withdrawal of British forces.



Sir: Tony Blair's continued refusal to acknowledge the true scale of the disaster Iraq has created puts one in mind of a comment about Philip II of Spain, quoted by Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly: "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."



Making light of it

Sir: If I remember rightly, it was back in the spring that David Cameron announced he was changing to energy-efficient light bulbs at home: your front page of 2 October says this process is still going on. How many Tories does it take to change a light bulb?



Rare delight of a goal

Sir: Widening goalmouths is unnecessary, as football does not need more goals (letter, 30 September). One major reason for the worldwide popularity of football is the unique excitement generated by the scoring of a goal. Fans know that matches can be, and often are, won by a single goal and so when one is scored it is cheered to the echo because potentially it has won the game. Matches ending 4-3 or 5-4 are to be celebrated as glorious anomalies. If they became routine then the scoring of a goal would become devalued and football less exciting.



Oldest youth club

Sir: Your report (27 September) mentions a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to the Florence Institute in Liverpool and calls this "Britain's oldest surviving youth club". Alford House, in Lambeth, was founded in 1884 and still flourishes. It antedates the Florence Institute by five years.



Christmas dog ban

Sir: Sarah Cassidy asks, "Would any government ban children getting puppies for Christmas?" (The Big Question, 29 September). Surely the one thing we all know about dogs is that "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas." It might not be such a bad thing if a future government did something to discourage people becoming dog owners on a whim or in the face of pester power.



Don't recline at me

Sir: What on earth is Deyan Sudjic talking about (Design Special, 23 September), equating bad design with Ryanair "seats that don't recline"? On any aircraft where space is at a premium non-reclining seats save considerate people from having someone else's seat six inches from their face. I will always fly Ryanair in future; to me non-reclining seats are a selling point.



Uses of Marmite

Sir: The correspondence on the uses of Marmite has not so far mentioned one of my favourites, which is as a yoghurt flavouring. I found it necessary to experiment with the quantity to be incorporated into a pot of plain yoghurt and find that a very small amount is all that is needed to impart a deliciously delicate flavour.



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