August 1, 2003
Chemical Pollution Series (Part 2) - More kids are getting brain cancer - why?
In 2002, a series of seven, one-page articles appeared in the New York Times.
The primary goal behind them was to alert people to the types of threats we all face
from environmental pollution - specifically from a group of compounds called Persistent Organic Pollutants or POP's.
Since the collection of data on the distribution and concentrations of POP's (also known as EDC's, BPT's and organohalogens)
in the world's oceans is a focus of our work - it seems fitting to present another take on this issue.
We are grateful to the authors and sponsors of these articles for permission to include them here.
For more information and to view all of the articles go to www.childenvironment.org.
Toxic chemicals appear
linked to rising rates of
As scientists and physicians, we've seen
a drop in the death rates of many adult
and childhood cancers because of
earlier detection and better treatment.
But we are also seeing a disturbing rise
in the reported incidence of cancer
among young children and adolescents,
especially brain cancer, testicular
cancer, and acute lymphocytic
leukemia. In fact, after injuries and
violence, cancer is the leading cause
of death in our children.
The increase in childhood cancers may
be explained in part by better detection
or better access to medical care. But
evidence suggests the rise in these
childhood cancers, as well as in cancers
like non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and
multiple myeloma among adults, may
also be partially explained by exposure
to chemicals in the environment,
chemicals found in many products,
from paints and pesticides to darkcolored
What We Know
Pound for pound, kids are exposed to
more toxic chemicals in food, air, and
water than adults, because children
breathe twice as much air, eat three to
four times more food, and drink as
much as two to seven times more
water. Recent epidemiologic studies
have shown that as children's exposures
to home and garden pesticides increase,
so does their risk of non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma, brain cancer, and leukemia.
Yet, right now, you can go to your
hardware store and buy lawn pesticides,
paint thinner and weed killers, all
containing toxic chemicals linked to
In both children and adults, the
incidence rate for non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma has increased thirty percent
since 1950. The disease has been linked
to industrial chemicals, chemicals
found in agricultural, home, and garden
pesticides, as well as dark hair dyes.
Studies have shown that Vietnam
veterans and chemical workers exposed
to Agent Orange, a phenoxy herbicide,
are especially at risk for non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma. American farmers who use
phenoxy herbicides have an increased
risk of the cancer. A Swedish study
showed that among the general
population, the risk of non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma rises with increased
exposure to these herbicides. And, a
study in Southern California found that
children of parents who use home
pesticides have seven times the risk of
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Multiple
myeloma, a bone marrow cancer,
is also associated with toxic chemicals.
Its incidence has tripled since 1950.
Farmers are especially at risk: a recent
analysis of thirty-two studies worldwide
showed “consistent, positive findings”
of an association between farming and
What We Can Do
There is much that parents can do
to protect their children from
carcinogenic chemicals, beginning
with the elimination of many pesticides
both outside and in the home. And,
of course, the cessation of smoking.
There are more suggestions on our
But more needs to be done. As a
society, we've done much to protect
people, especially children, from the
toxic chemicals in cigarettes. But too
many toxic chemicals are being
marketed without adequate testing.
We should demand that new chemicals
undergo the same rigorous testing as
medicines before being allowed on the
market. And we should phase out those
chemicals linked with a wide range of
health problems from neurological
impairment to cancer in children.
A summary of the supporting
scientific evidence, and a list of
scientific endorsers, can be found
- To download a PDF version of this article - click here