Extreme weather events are pouring carcinogens into the environment at unprecedented rates
A new study conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society and Harvard‘s T.H. Chan School of Public Health points to an alarming link between climate change and cancer. Recent rises in global temperatures have triggered an increase in both the frequency and the intensity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires, which release toxic carcinogens that can remain in the environment for months. In addition to increasing cancer risk, climate change is also having an impact on cancer survival.
Nearly 10 million people worldwide died from cancer in 2018 alone. Over the past hundred years, many cancers have been transformed from death sentences into frequently preventable and potentially curable diseases. But the prospects for further progress in cancer treatment is now threatened by climate change, which can affect cancer risk factors and access to cancer care.
Scientists have found that the precipitation brought on by Hurricane Harvey—in Texas and Louisiana in 2017—flooded oil refineries and chemical plants, which in turn leaked lethal carcinogens into the Houston region. The half-life of some of these carcinogens is a staggering 50 years. Similarly, the unprecedented and deadly California wildfires of 2018 caused a spike in air pollution levels in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it one of the worst polluted regions in the world at the time.
Extreme weather events can also obstruct access to cancer treatment, since storms can impede patients’ access to health care, damage factories where hospital equipment is produced, and interfere with the distribution of crucial medical supplies. The result? Cancer survival rates are decreased by as much as 19%.