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Breast Cancer and Pesticides in Hawaii
August 1, 1997

Rising breast cancer rates in Hawaii may be partially attributable to intensive pesticide use in the state, according to a recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives. Breast cancer rates have increased for all racial groups in Hawaii since 1970, but only 30% to 40% of these cancers can be explained by known risk factors. The study points out that an emerging body of evidence suggests that certain chemicals including pesticides play a role in causing the disease by interfering with the body's natural hormone balance. Over the past 40 years in Hawaii, there has been widespread use of endocrine disrupting pesticides, including DBCP, DDT, DDE, kepone, heptachlor, chlordane, dieldrin, mirex, lindane and toxaphene.

Pesticide Action Network North America

Source: Breast Cancer and Pesticides in Hawaii: The Need for Further Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 105, Supplement 3, April 1997.

Breast Cancer and Pesticides in Hawaii:
The Need for Further Study

Ruth H. Allen,1 Michelle Gottlieb,2 Eve Clute,3 Montira J. Pongsiri,4 Janette Sherman,5 and G. Iris Obrams1

1Extramural Epidemiology and Genetics Program, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland; 2Health, Environment, and Development Program, World Resources Institute, Washington, DC; 3School of Public Health, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii; 4School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; 5Department of Sociology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan



Only 30% of all breast cancer can be explained by known risk factors. Increases in breast cancer incidence rates in Hawaii over the past few decades cannot be attributed solely to improvements in screening and detection. Avoidable environmental factors may contribute to a proportion of the unexplained cases. Emerging evidence on endocrine disruption suggests that environmental chemicals may play a role in the development of breast cancer. Agricultural chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, have been used intensively in Hawaii's island ecosystem over the past 40 years leaching into groundwater, and leading to unusually widespread occupational and general population exposures. This paper discusses breast cancer patterns in Hawaii in the context of documented episodes of exposure to two endocrine-disrupting chemicals, chlordane/heptachlor and 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP), at levels that sometimes exceeded federal standards by several orders of magnitude. In light of this history, detailed geographic-based studies should be undertaken in Hawaii to elucidate the potential role of environmental factors in the development of breast cancer and other diseases. -- Environ Health Perspect 105(Suppl 3):679-683 (1997)


A common link among traditional risk factors is that they promote breast cancer by elevating total lifetime exposure to biologically active estrogens, principally in the form of estradiol (9). There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that environmental chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system and contribute to the development of breast cancer. The universe of compounds shown to exhibit estrogenic function is extensive. These compounds, labeled environmental estrogens, xenoestrogens, and estrogen mimickers, share the ability to disrupt the endocrine system, causing a cascade of biological effects. A number of restricted or banned pesticides used in Hawaii are estrogenic. These include DDT, DDE, kepone, heptachlor, chlordane, dieldrin, mirex, lindane, and toxaphene (10,11). Other compounds that may disrupt hormonal mechanisms include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbon combustion pollutants, and ingredients in plastics such as nonylphenol (12,13). Naturally occurring plant estrogens called bioflavonoids (e.g., coumestrol) and mycotoxins (e.g., zearalenone) may be even more estrogenic than industrial chemicals (12,14), although their ultimate biologic effect may be less toxic (15). Natural estrogens are usually metabolized and excreted rapidly, but synthetic estrogens can have long half-lives and bioaccumulate in fat (16).

Fleet/trucking/bus terminals

Photo processing/printing

Technical Report No. 9
by: Marshall A. Eto, Nathan C. Burbank, Jr., Howard W. Klemmer, and L.Stephen Lau

August 1967


This study investigated the ability of two Oahu soils, Wahiawa and Lahaina, to prevent chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides; DDT and Lindane, in acetone solutions from percolating through the soils. The study was prompted by the possibility of contamination of Oahu's domestic groundwater source by the two widely used insecticides. Wahiawa and Lahaina soils were effective in withholding DDT under saturated and intermittent flow conditions. Breakthrough of Lindane was noted in Wahiawa and Lahaina soil under saturated flow, and under intermittent flow conditions in Wahiawa soil only. Breakthrough concentrations were generally in the order of 0.3 ppm or lower. Breakthrough of Lindane and concentrations in the percolate were in direct proportion to soil volume. Column analysis showed that, in most cases, Lahaina soil held both pesticides in the upper three inches while Wahiawa soil held only DDT in the same region. Lindane was evenly distributed through the Wahiawa columns with a slightly greater count held at the surface. Pesticide loss through volatility in Lahaina soil was 60 to 80% of that noted in Wahiawa soil. Overall losses were as high as 50% for DDT and 25% for Lindane in the Wahiawa soil. Resistance to loss through volatility and retention of pesticides in soil appear to be directly related to organic matter content. Five Oahu soils tested to determine their ability to absorb pesticides from water-acetone solutions effectively removed pesticides in solute concentrations up to 1OO ppm. DDT and Lindane were removed in the order of 90 to 100% by swirling the soils in the pesticide solutions. No desorption occurred with water, but both pesticides were absorbed with benzene. Data obtained may be described by the Freundlich adsorption isotherm X/M = KC1/n where X/M = amount of pesticide sorbed per unit weight of soil, C = concentration of pesticide solution, and K = constant. values of K and n for Lindane sorption were in the range of 0.1 and 0.9, respectively, and for DDT they were in the order of 2.0 and 1.0, respectively.



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