Daily News Archive
December 12, 2006
Probe on Rare Cancers, Potato Pesticides Suspected
(Beyond Pesticides, December
12, 2006) Alarmed at the rates of rare cancers in young children
in rural western Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, a new local doctor
speaks out about suspicions of pesticide exposure from rural agriculture
prompting a new investigation.
Shortly after coming to Kensington, a farming community of about 14,000
people, Dr. Ron Matsusak has come across an osteosarcoma that led to
the heart-wrenching death of a young girl, several lymphomas, an Ewing's
sarcoma, and a number of myeloid leukemia cases, all among children.
Brain cancers have not spared young and middle-aged adults either, with
three of them last year.
statistics," Dr. Matsusaki says. The cancers are exceedingly rare,
and typically only three or four children out of a million would be
diagnosed in Canada in a year with either of these rare forms. Based
on the region's population, about five or six children on all of PEI
would be expected to be diagnosed with cancer in a year, if its rate
were at the national average. There is some evidence, albeit not scientific,
that PEI's rate may be far, far higher. The Children's Wish Foundation,
the charity that funds memorable experiences for extremely ill children,
says the group on PEI has either granted or has pending 20 wishes this
year for young cancer patients.
To Dr. Matsusak the illnesses seemed more like what might be expected
near a hazardous waste site. He started suspecting pesticide usage among
the region's economic mainstay, potato farming.
Potato cultivation accounts for about 90 percent of all the pesticides
used on the island. Potatoes are a heavy user of pesticides, receiving
up to 19 sprays in a single growing season. Farmers often spray on a
weekly basis, or even more frequently to try to prevent blight. They
also spray herbicides to kill the tops of the plants at the end of the
growing season to make the underground tubers easier to harvest. And,
there is likely to be more pesticide exposure on the Island in recent
years because potato acreage has expanded dramatically -- doubling since
1980 and up about 40 percent since 1990.
In children, there is a link between pesticides and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,
along with kidney and brain cancer and leukemia, according to an authoritative
review of the scientific literature on pesticide-related illnesses conducted
by the Ontario
College of Family Physicians in 2004 (Daily
News, April 26, 2004).
Studies have shown that Prince Edward Islanders experience extremely
high pesticide levels compared to other people in Canada. In Kensington,
which is surrounded by potato fields, one study found the second-highest
pesticide readings in the country. The area had extremely high levels
of chlorothalonil, a fungicide widely used on the island, along with
16 other pesticides. Another study showed that practically the entire
PEI population is exposed to airborne pesticides in summertime.
After Dr. Matsusaki began to voice his concerns, the province decided
to launch an investigation to check whether Islanders have recently
been more afflicted by cancer than people elsewhere in Canada. The Department
of Health is expected to make the new cancer review public late this
Source: Toronto Globe