January 20, 2023 at 9:25 am
Updated on January 20, 2023 at 15:28
Reading time: 9 minutes
“ within 99.99 % of clusters, cannot find causes. » This is the explanation given to Marie Thibaud a few years after her 4-year-old son Alban was diagnosed with leukemia. The family then lived in Sainte-Pazanne, in Loire-Atlantique. At the hospital he goes to, Alban notices several of his school friends in the hallways. One, two, then three… In total, about twenty more children from the surrounding villages are in this very hospital. They all have cancer. Some have the same as Alban’s, others don’t. Marie Thibaud wonders: what is wrong with all these children? ? Is there a group of cancers? ? Alert the health authorities, who in 2017 considered the situation abnormal. In addition to the hereditary origins of diseases, another cause is raised: environmental pollution.
Four potential sources of contamination were detected: soils contaminated with hydrocarbons, benzene contamination linked to industrial discharges and road traffic and, finally, exposure to radon and pesticides. Despite this, three years later, the cold shower: Public Health France (spf) declared the region free of risk. Children from Sainte-Pazanne were not at higher risk of developing cancer than in other regions. The clues raised were later buried and the investigation abandoned. “ But mom, why did they stop looking? ? » Alban asked his mother.
- An abnormally high number of pediatric cancers have been reported in Saint-Rogatien, Charente-Maritime. © Future Health Environment
Given the lack of response from the health authorities, Marie Thibaud decided to do the research herself: in 2019 she created, together with other interested families, the collective Let’s stop our children’s cancers. “ We did a lot of research, we found a lot of things. We passed them on to the health authorities who never did anything. We have decided to stop fighting the State, the health authorities and institutional dysfunctions. we decided to act »explains Marie Thibaud.
Driven by the collective and financially supported by the department, the region, and local elected officials, a citizen institute for research and prevention in environmental health should open its doors this year, and the public expects it to be fully operational by summer. “ We will begin by reviewing all the studies carried out »explains Laurence Huc, toxicologist and director of research at Inrae, who is part of the project.
These parents aren’t the only ones taking matters into their own hands. Other groups of parents of children with pediatric cancers have been born in Eure or Haut-Jura. There are many others in France. In fact, three abnormal groups of pediatric cancers have been identified in France: two are officially recognized by Public Health France (in Haut-Jura and Eure) ; le troisième (à Sainte-Pazanne, in Loire-Atlantique) n’est plus reconnu officiellement depuis 2020. Un quatrième, en Charente-Maritime, autour de la commune de Saint-Rogatien, ne l’est pas encore, l’étude étant in progress. In these four departments, “ no single cause identified » and there are no further investigations underway by Public Health France. Hence the importance of the investigative work carried out by families, with the help of scientists, citizens and local elected officials.
A causal link difficult to determine
His research, however, clashes with scientific reality: it is difficult to prove that environmental pollution is the cause of pediatric cancers. One thing is certain: of the 1,700 children under the age of 15 and 800 between the ages of 15 and 18 who develop childhood cancer each year, 10 % are of hereditary origin. the 90s the remaining % are due to bad luck and/or external factors.
It is also difficult to know which contaminants are involved and how many there are. The sources of pollution have multiplied considerably in recent decades. Pollutants are found in water, air, and soil. And there are many types of childhood cancers. “ There are sixty-five differentexplains Marie Castets, a researcher at the Lyon Cancer Research Center. Getting an epidemiological study to formally demonstrate a causal relationship between a pollutant and cancer is very complicated. Much more so than for smoking-, alcohol-, and asbestos-related adult cancers, where the populations were well defined. »
If it is difficult to establish this direct link, it is still necessary to search for it. Different fundamental research teams including that of Marie Castets, are working on the health effects of the combination of different contaminants, but on the ground the health authorities are still looking for a single cause.
However, doctors, toxicologists, ecologists have been warning for decades about the combined effects of molecules. Since 1962, explained the American biologist Rachel Carson in her book silent spring the explosive potential of combining different pesticides. Sixty years later, nothing has changed in our approach to toxicology. “ The problem is that the authorities are not there to investigate. They only measure if we respect the rules »denounces Laurence Huc, toxicologist and director of research at INRAE.
Consequence: It is impossible to know the combined effects of these exposures. On the cocktail effect, the Loire-Atlantique regional health agency is clear: “ The current state of knowledge does not allow the integration of this type of measurement in the investigations carried out in the Sainte-Pazanne sector. »specified on their site.
- Around Sainte-Pazanne, the bus ECS organizes research and prevention actions against pediatric cancers. © Stop our children’s cancers – Collective ECS
“ The amount of pesticides has increased »
However, environmental pollution does a lot of harm to humans. In Eure, at the initiative of parents of children with cancer, overexposure to lead and rare earths was revealed last summer. However, Public Health France had closed the investigation.
In Saint-Rogatien, pesticides are also present. In 2019, the results of the Atmo study on air quality were clear: in the Aunis plain surrounding Saint-Rogatien, 33 pesticides poison the air. In 2022, we even reach 41 pesticides, with a record score for prosulfocarb. A year earlier, an Inserm epidemiological study had identified an excess risk of cancer for those under 24 years of age in the city of Saint-Rogatien.
“ The amount of pesticides has increased »denounces Franck Rinchet-Girollet, from the Avenir Santé Environnement association, founded by the group of parents of children with pediatric cancers. Pesticide residues have also been found in drinking water, in concentrations above authorized limits.
At the end of September, the association denounced this massive contamination in a forum, followed by a march last December.
Fight against pesticides
In Charente-Maritime, citizens demand an end to the use of pesticides in their department. They would like to see the combination of exposure factors and chronic toxicity taken into account more widely in scientific and medical studies. “ France must arm itself with regulations and invest in research to regulate this multiple exposure. You cannot settle for having only acute toxicity standards »explain the signers of the forum.
In summer, the public also demanded a moratorium on the spraying of prosulfocarb, whose concentrations in the air in the Aunis plain do not seem to worry the Government. After rejecting the moratorium, “ the State had promised a study by ANSES by the end of September »says Franck Rinchet-Girollet. Finally, it will not be published before the first quarter of 2023. “ After the recreation period. We’ve had another year of sprays on our teeth. »
- Members of the Avenir Santé Environnement association demonstrated against pesticides in December 2022. © Franck Rinchet-Girollet
For these parents of sick children and these citizens, it is urgent to implement preventive measures. “ The fact that there are delirious levels of pesticides in the air in a territory already impacted by environmental diseases does not provoke any reaction, it is very problematic. we can’t tell spf linking these figures to the occurrence of cancer is more complicated than that. But don’t put anything in as a preventative measure, it’s amazing »argues Laurence Huc.
For their part, scientists denounce the lack of reliable, updated and regionalized data. Nationally, pediatric cancer registries record a backlog in referrals of several years. At the departmental level, the establishment of such registers depends on the good will of the public authorities. Result: out of 95 French departments, only 19 have one. The Court of Auditors has also singled out Public Health France in its reference management. “ What matters is the health of our children, not institutional dysfunctions »certifies Marie Thibaud, whose son Alban has since been in remission.
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