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'Pesticides are what is killing our kids'

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He says pesticides are part of modern farming, and opponents of spraying are being unrealistic. "We have some extremists who see the thing as everybody should have a cow, a chicken, a goat and a few potatoes and live like we did 150 years ago. That isn't going to happen."

But the idea that some Islanders are getting cancer as a byproduct of slaking the rising national demand for French fries is widely accepted in the area, although not all of those with cancer are convinced. Tom Rath, diagnosed three years ago with multiple myeloma, a blood-related cancer whose incidence is rising for unknown reasons, says "there are certainly lots of people that believe pesticides" are the cause of cancer, but he is keeping an open mind.

In his own case, he says: "I just looked for an explanation. I didn't find one."

If there is a link to pesticides, it would likely show up first in children because their rapid cell division makes them more sensitive to cancer-causing chemical exposures than adults.

Kathy Bigsby, a pediatric specialist at Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, has also been concerned about the elevated rate of cancer among children at the western part of the island where Dr. Matsusaki practices.

"We actually have had a clustering of cases of children with cancers of various types from that end of the island," she says.

But Dr. Bigsby says some medical experts believe the area previously had a relatively low rate, suggesting the current rash of cases may be an unlucky statistical blip.

Based on its population, about five or six children on all of PEI should be diagnosed with cancer 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.

It's a statistic that has Ms. Harper fearful. She has become so worried that agriculture has turned PEI into a pollution hot spot that she is considering moving her family off island. "I don't think this is the right place to raise a family," she says.

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Cancers with suspected environmental links

Childhood leukemia

This cancer, the most common in children, is linked to the most ubiquitous of pollutants -- the invisible lines of force known as magnetic fields that surround all electrical-powered devices, from computers to light bulbs. Rates of the disease rose four-fold in the U.S. over the period electricity was introduced into common use from the 1920s to 1960s, but in recent years, there has been a small, annual increase. Canadian research has found children in homes with high rates of electromagnetic fields are two to four times more likely to develop the disease.

Testicular cancer in young men 20-44

Rates have been rising sharply in Canada since the early 1980s, with men nearly twice as likely to develop the disease than a generation ago. It is the most common cancer in young men. Having an undescended testicle is a risk factor, but many researchers suspect the widespread public exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals in many pesticides, drugs and plastics is also a factor.

Thyroid cancer in young women 20-44

Thyroid cancer has the most rapidly rising incidence rate among young Canadian women. Cancers are traditionally a disease of the old, and human genetics wouldn't have changed enough in the past generation to cause such a large increase. There are concerns the rise must be prompted by some new environmental factor, such as exposures to hormone-disrupting chemicals.

Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in men and women aged 20-24

Rates for both men and women have shot higher in past decades. Many researchers suspect exposure to pesticides, particularly those used to kill plants, is a factor.

SOURCE: CANCER CARE ONTARIO: CANCER IN YOUNG ADULTS IN CANADA

Series schedule

Nov. 20 Drugs and dollars: The pressure of high costs on care

Nov. 21 So tired of waiting:

Treatment is still taking too long

Nov. 22 Canada's research chasm: A nation falls behind

Nov. 23 PET scan scandal: High tech sits idle

Nov. 24 Screen test: Beating the

colorectal killer

Nov. 25 in Focus English

lessons: The quest for a national strategy

Nov. 25 in NewsThe science of stem cells: A new way of looking

at cancer

Nov. 28 The end of chemo: There must be a better way

Nov. 30 Can a shot of the flu cure cancer?

Dec. 2 In his shoes: Eleven-year-old Spencer fights to live

Today It's everywhere: Is the

environment killing people?

Saturday "C-type" mentality:

The psychology of survival

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