Thursday, February 28, 2008

WOAI Trouble Shooters ask, "Could Corn Tortillas Be Causing Cancer?"

And I think the answer, judging from the Trouble Shooters story, is, who knows?

For nearly two years now, the News 4 Trouble Shooters have been investigating why people living near the former Kelly Air Force Base are dying of liver cancer at a rate twice as high as other parts of Texas. Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila tells us why health officials are now studying whether a very popular food here in South Texas could be responsible.


Many people living in the area are convinced their health problems are the result of the TCE, which was found to have seeped into groundwater. The plume of contaminated water was first mapped out in 1999 and stretched underneath 22,000 homes across the south and southwest sides of town. The area was even dubbed the "Toxic Triangle."

In the last few years, the plume has shrunk because the air force is slowly cleaning it up.

However, a number of studies have failed to connect TCE exposure, to the cancer cases. [Director of the Health Department Dr. Fernando] Guerra told us, "For the most part, we did not find an association in the study that we did, which is reassuring."

So now, the health department is going in a different direction. Texas A&M and Texas Tech researchers are now studying whether corn, like you'd find in corn tortillas, could be causing the liver cancer.

Dr. Kirby Donnelly, who is heading up the study from A&M's end, said it's not as silly as it sounds, when he sat down with Jaie Avila recently.

Avila asked, "You've got this TCE underground in the ground water, and yet you guys are studying corn tortillas."

Dr. Donnelly answered, "Yes, and I'm sympathetic to that frustration. I know on the surface it sounds like, 'Oh, you're coming here and we've got this environmental problem. We know the trichloriethelene's in the ground water. We know that these chlorinated solvents are getting into our households and you're looking at tortillas, and everybody eats tortillas, but not every doesn't get liver cancer.' Well, the issue, the more important issue is, the people who get liver cancer are likely getting liver cancer because of a number of things. Not just their environment. Not just their nutrition. Not just their genes."


You are probably wondering, if corn tortillas are to blame, why don't more of us who eat them get liver cancer? Not just people living near Kelly? Well, researchers tell us they think there may be a combination of factors, unique to that area, contributing to the cancer rate, such as the pollution, genetics, and perhaps, corn tortillas.

Now, I'm not a doctor, nor am I a university researcher, but if I had to take a wild shot at investigating possible causes of cancer in a specific area and the list of possible problems were contaminated groundwater, pollution, genetics, or corn tortillas, I might try to definitively rule out the first three before spending money to study enchiladas and chalupas.

Just sayin' --


Kels said...

lol Where's Erin Brockovich?!?! We just need to get her out here and they'll stop looking at corn.

Albatross said...

You're not talking about anything cornographic, are you?

Kels said...

LOL oh, my gosh... my Mom totally just asked me what I was laughing so hard at...! (There are few times I actually Laugh Out Loud... but this was one of them!) I hate to put it this way, but I'm just glad to know that because I don't live in that area (with my CORNSUMPTION) that I won't get cancer... ;)

armazan said...

Although in our life this time seems everything can cause cancer, we needn't too fear. Cancer is not as easy as that attack us. Also, cancer is not catching.

Anonymous said...

At first glance, a corn study seems silly in pursuit of liver cancer...Specially with all the known chemical contamination.
Yet a few years ago,corn products were pulled/recalled from TacoBell and the store shelves because they were contaminated with genetically engineered corn(StarLink)never approved of for human consumption...many other contamination events have happened.
Varieties that have not yet been approved of by the USAD or FDA or for that matter the EPA.
Really no one seems to be regulating now days.
First GE crops started out weed resistant,then insect stacked varieties and here comes the ones with pharmaceuticals and industrial compounds.
Yes,we should be investigating our food!!!!
I have been volunteering for center for food safety for years.
What about "OUR" food?
God bless

Anonymous said...

In response to the previous Anonymous Coward; There are a few things that mass media failed to mention during the whole Starlink corn debacle. For starters, the yellow corn that had been modified was designated for livestock feed only. Testing for human consumption had already began.

When it came to light that the modified genes had been detected in several commercial products, the remaining primary concern was related to the effects on individuals with pre-existing food allergies. Mass media failed to mention this, and chose their words carefully; "Not Approved for Human Consumption" catches one's attention faster than "Testing was Almost Complete". Other issues, such as the cross pollination with white corn crops (which were the source of Kraft's dreaded Taco Bell taco shells) came to light and were used as a means to vilify an otherwise benign industry.

We see the same fear mongering tactics with other sensitive topics; "cloning", "stem cell research", "abortion", "organ transplants", "blood transfusions", "nuclear power". All of these topics have been brutally beaten in an attempt to stymie their acceptance and widespread use for one reason or another.

Now I'm all for putting a new technology through the wringer to ensure that it delivers as promised, and as safely as possible. However, things are getting a bit out of hand; Blood transfusions save lives. Organ transplants save lives.
By engineering crops that are more resistant to insects, can grow in harsher climates, and can provide more vitamins than are readily available, we're going further than ever to help our fellow man. Corn tortillas made with genetically engineered crops that were in the process of being sanctioned for human consumption might cause cancer. It could be the proximity to the base, or "something in the water". But if I had to hedge my bets, I'd look at a more common denominator (the plastics used to store the corn tortillas, perhaps).

On a lighter note, I'm sure that in the eight years that have passed since then, the responsible parties have increased efforts to refine their procedures and increase the quality of their products, or have simply gone out of business due to the damning reputation handed them by mass media and their congregation.

P.S: My apologies for the lack of references, it's my day off and I'm feeling a bit lazy.

P.S.S: Unless you're referring to the United States Academic Decathlon, the acronym is "USDA".