Daily News Archive
From December 12, 2006                                                                                                        

PEI Launching 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.

"That defies 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 year.

Source: Toronto Globe and Mail