WHO'S WORRIED ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL ILLS?
Environmental contamination is high on the list of New Jerseyans' concerns, according to a UMDNJ-Eagleton Poll conducted in late August. The state's residents are worried about how their health may be damaged by toxins in food, water, air, soil, their homes and job sites.
Of the 800 New Jersey adults randomly selected for interviews by the Eagleton Institute's Center for Public Interest Polling, 89 percent are concerned about the health effects of air pollution, 87 percent about toxic ground water and 82 percent about pesticides. Those polled are also troubled about the possible risks of land fills (74 percent), lead based paint (71 percent), nuclear power plants (68 percent), radon (67 percent) and high tension power lines (55 percent).
How do residents react to these perceived threats? Forty percent say they have cut back on certain foods they think might be contaminated and 21 percent eat some organic products. In addition, 35 percent have installed water filtration systems, 31 percent had their homes tested for radon, 31 percent for carbon monoxide and 18 percent for lead. Six percent refused a job offer or moved from one geographic location to another and 5 percent changed jobs to protect themselves from potentially toxic substances.
How do the experts respond? "People should not cut back on fruits and vegetables because of possible pesticide exposure," advises John D. Bogden, PhD, professor of preventive medicine and community health at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. "The fact that fruits and vegetables are key components of a good diet and substantially decrease the chance of many cancers overwhelmingly outweighs the chance of adverse effects from pesticides."
Michael Gallo, PhD, says that buying bottled water is generally not necessary unless you live near a hazardous waste site that affects drinking water. "There can be as many chemicals found in most processed bottled water as in most city water," states the professor of environmental and community medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Joan Luckhardt, PhD, points out that the incidence of lead poisoning has decreased in the state because home testing and lead removal have been emphasized. "However, we need to emphasize the importance of testing homes and land for high levels of radon and carbon monoxide. Radon exposure has been linked to lung cancer and carbon monoxide exposure can be fatal," explains the director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention and Education Center at UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Nine-in-ten New Jerseyans are concerned about the link between environmental toxins and cancer.
"Although there is no question that the environment plays a role, there has been no evidence that the environment alone causes cancer," Gallo says. "Diet, smoking and air pollution are the three biggest environmental contributors to cancer."
The magazine of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey