Do Silent song birds speak to increasing cases of cancer? They may as told by the alarming cases of cancer in children. Today we have 46 children or approximately 2 classrooms full of children that are diagnosed every school day in this country with cancer.

Scientists now believe that many childhood cancers are caused by cancer causing environmental exposures. Evidence from epidemiological studies suggests that environmental contaminants such as pesticides and certain chemicals, in addition to radiation, may contribute to an increased frequency of some childhood cancers.

Cancer remains the leading cause of death among U.S. children ages 1 to 19 years, second only to accidents.

Children are different from adults. Pound for pound, children eat more food, drink more water, and breathe more air than adults. Thus, they are likely to be exposed to substances in their environment at higher levels than are adults. Exposure to toxicants may result in irreversible damage, even though the same exposure to a mature system may result in little or no damage.

The environment of today is the proverbial mirror for human health. Our role is charged with reducing the unnecessary and preventable exposures that have taken on the everyday landscape in our own lives those known to have caused cancer and those we suspect to have caused cancer.

With cases of breast cancer everyday we have mothers facing the news that they too have breast cancer. The American Cancer Society reports this year in the United States in neighborhoods across the country we will have over 200,000 women that will diagnosed with breast cancer and over 40 thousand women will die of breast cancer.

We are in a place where we can and must do things differently. We know too much. To suggest that a concern about the unknown is “panic” is to dismiss the obvious. It is for that reason we must depend on sound science.

We put our children in car seats not expecting an accident but on the basis of prevention. Why then would we expose ourselves much less children to an exposure where the outcomes could eventually bring children long-term harm especially if we as adults can prevent an exposure? As adults children look to us to protect them.

Bill Couzens


Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?

Published: March 30, 2008
Woodbridge, Ontario

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Olaf Hajek
THOUGH a consumer may not be able to tell the difference, a striking red and blue Thomas the Tank Engine made in Wisconsin is not the same as one manufactured in China — the paint on the Chinese twin may contain dangerous levels of lead. In the same way, a plump red tomato from Florida is often not the same as one grown in Mexico. The imported fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter and early spring are grown with types and amounts of pesticides that would often be illegal in the United States.

In this case, the victims are North American songbirds. Bobolinks, called skunk blackbirds in some places, were once a common sight in the Eastern United States. In mating season, the male in his handsome tuxedo-like suit sings deliriously as he whirrs madly over the hayfields. Bobolink numbers have plummeted almost 50 percent in the last four decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The birds are being poisoned on their wintering grounds by highly toxic pesticides. Rosalind Renfrew, a biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, captured bobolinks feeding in rice fields in Bolivia and took samples of their blood to test for pesticide exposure. She found that about half of the birds had drastically reduced levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme that affects brain and nerve cells — a sign of exposure to toxic chemicals.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe. Rice farmers in the region use monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran, all agricultural chemicals that are rated Class I toxins by the World Health Organization, are highly toxic to birds, and are either restricted or banned in the United States. In countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, researchers have found that farmers spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous pesticides.

In the mid-1990s, American biologists used satellite tracking to follow Swainson’s hawks to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where thousands of them were found dead from monocrotophos poisoning. Migratory songbirds like bobolinks, barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds are suffering mysterious population declines, and pesticides may well be to blame. A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States. Some but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing or peeling produce, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood. American consumers can discourage this poisoning by avoiding foods that are bad for the environment, bad for farmers in Latin America and, in the worst cases, bad for their own families……