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Int J Health Serv. 1993;23(3):497-517.

Carcinogens in Israeli milk: a study in regulatory failure.


The potential danger to humans of exposure to chemicals shown to be carcinogenic in animals has become increasingly clear in the last 20 years. A gap still exists, however, between the appreciation of the risk by scientists and the willingness of public health authorities to reduce it. Three pesticides, shown repeatedly to produce over a dozen different types of cancer in rats and mice, were discovered in inordinately high concentrations in Israeli milk and dairy products. The three pesticides--alpha-BHC, gamma-BHC (lindane), and DDT--had been shown to be present for ten years or more at mean concentrations up to 100 times those found in U.S. dairy products--with resultant concentrations in breast milk being possibly 800 times greater than those in the United States--yet neither the Ministry of Health nor the Israel Cancer Association made any apparent moves either to warn the public or to rectify the situation. A small consumer organization, Consumer Shield, brought the issue into the open. Through public pressure, court action, and the threat of further legal redress--and despite repeated attacks in the media by the milk producers, the Ministry, and the Cancer Association--Consumer Shield forced the authorities to outlaw the use of alpha-BHC and lindane (DDT no longer being in general use). The ban resulted in a precipitous drop in the concentrations of these substances in Israeli milk. Recent epidemiological and laboratory findings suggest that the dramatic drop in breast cancer mortality rates subsequent to the pesticide ban could be a direct result of that ban.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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