The American Way of Cancer

Ktorbeck. Photo of Bauer Elementary, Miamisburg, Ohio. Asbestos Warning!

Ktorbeck. Photo of Bauer Elementary, Miamisburg, Ohio. Asbestos Warning! Wikimedia Commons, 07 March 2016.

Dan Rather reported on the state of cancer and cancer research in the United States on October 15, 1975. He examined food additives and cancer among asbestos workers in Paterson, New Jersey, and arsenic workers at the Asarco copper smelter in Tacoma, Washington. Produced by Perry Wolff and Judy Crichton, the show explored evidence that as much as 85 percent of all cancers are environmentally produced. Scientists, doctors, workers, industrial spokespersons, union leaders, and government officials were interviewed. In addition, the show profiled New Jersey, which had the highest rate of cancer in the United States as well as the highest concentration of chemical industries in the nation.

Calling the program “convincingly argued, restrained, even optimistic,” the Washington Post described it as “a documentary designed not to shock but to make you think,” and concluded that “you won’t find a better or more tasteful treatment of this subject on TV this season.” The New York Times talked about “some rather astonishing finding in both” food and products in direct contact with potential cancer-causing substances and job plants “where awareness and direct contact are unavoidable.” Calling the program “pretty strong stuff, obviously designed to trigger action,” the newspapers nevertheless doubted that any significant changes would follow.

While the connection between the TV show and concrete changes was not clear, a transcript of the show was presented during the hearings of the Senate Committee on Commerce in 1975. One of the potentialy dangerous substances, Red Dye No. 2, was eventually banned in the United States in 1976.