December 27, 2012 • Podcasts
Remembering Eco-Feminist Rosalie Bertell
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Rosalie Bertell: I was a math major for both Bachelor’s degree and the Master’s degree. When I wanted to go on for a doctorate, I was offered a scholarship from the National Institute of Health.
FW: Bertell was a senior research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and a consultant to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada. In 1984, she founded the International Institute of Concern for Public Health in Toronto, Canada. Ten years later, she gave this interview about her work:
RB: Now I’m working to develop what I’m calling a new layer of medical care, which is care for the community, developing ways to say whether or not the community is in a health problem. If it’s abnormal, then what intervention can we make on a community level that will improve the, the health – just to give you an example, in the Metro area of Toronto, we found one community where 60% of the people had respiratory problems. Now, there’s something radically wrong there. I mean, they were downwind of a big incinerator, which probably was a major contributing factor, but, you know, we did look at other things. People’s socioeconomic status, and measure that impact. We look at the impact of lifestyle and hobbies, indoor pollution, even floor wax and roach spray. And we look at outdoor pollution and we rate all of these both on the hazard to the individual and impact in terms of ill health on the whole community, so they can be then approached by the community in a rational way.
FW: In 1986, Rosalie Bertell received a Right Livelihood award for her research on factors that damage the biosphere and the human gene pool. From the WINGS archive, you’re listening to mathematician and epidemiologist Dr. Rosalie Bertell, interviewed in 1994 by Laura Flanders:
Laura Flanders: I’d like to go on to the topic of breast cancer and the work that you’ve done on breast cancer. Maybe you could start with an idea of what leads you to believe that radiation plays a role in the increased rates of breast cancer that we’re seeing these days.
RB: I had worked for nine years on the analysis of the Tri-State Leukemia Survey - that was a major survey done in Maryland, Minnesota and New York State. It was a study that, as soon as the person was diagnosed, they had to report to the state authority, and then a public health nurse would go and interview the person and the family, collect a lot of information and 50 different possible exposures, and then, we also had several sets of controls for each person. It was a study both of childhood leukemia and adult leukemia.
So I spent about four years screening the data for the factors that looked like they were connected with the increase of leukemia, and then evaluating how many of the cases that could be attributed to this factor. And it became obvious that the most important factor of the 50 that were looked at was the medical diagnostic x-ray. So, then I spent another five years just to study the effect of the medical x-rays including dental and chest and GI series, and intravenous pyelogram, all the things that people get, and that general effect on leukemia in particular, and I started looking at the non-lymphatic leukemias, because those leukemias go up with an astonishing regularity with every year of aging.
They had put on our site committee, Seymour Jablon, who was head of all of the atomic bomb studies, and we were also attacking his research, because we were finding risk estimates for leukemia that were much higher than they were saying based on the Hiroshima data. And there was certainly a lot of politics going on, because after having been funded for 10 years by the National Cancer Institute, the funding was stopped, and we got a letter saying, “If you would like to change your line of research, we would be glad to consider a resubmission of your program”. So, I was really angry at that, but it was my first contact with this breast cancer mammography program, and right from the beginning in the 70s, I’ve always had a really bad feeling about it.