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Stand Up To Carcinogens For Kids

Stand Up To Carcinogens For Kids

Healthy Child Healthy World

by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff

In December, CNN reported the death of Saoirse Fitzgerald, the one-year-old girl who—alongside her mother, Kezia—had battled cancer. This heartbreaking story serves to remind all of us at Healthy Child Healthy World why we’re here—to honor the memory Colette Chuda, the five-year-old girl whose tragic death from pediatric cancer inspired the formation of our organization 20 years ago. Our goal then, and today, is to inspire parents to create healthier homes and communities free of environmental toxicants linked to cancer, among other serious health problems.

But inspiration may no longer be enough. Current data shows that every sixty minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer and every six hours, a child will lose her battle to cancer. Cases of pediatric cancer have increased 30 percent over the last 30 years, to the point that cancer is now the nation’s leading cause of death by disease in children.

WHY DO KIDS GET CANCER?

Scientists believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors cause cancer. In the U.S., the American Cancer Society estimates that 75 percent of cancers are caused by environmental factors. On a global scale, one in five cases of cancer are attributable to the environment, according to the World Health Organization. Both organizations cite preventable environmental factors such as chemicals, radiation and airborne particles as carcinogenic.

In pediatric cancer cases, evidence clearly links these factors—For example, an evaluation of epidemiologic pediatric cancer studies between 1970 and 1996 found pesticides “strongly associated” with childhood leukemia and brain cancers. However, there is still much to be learned about the specific risk factors and causes of pediatric cancer. One area of research found that transplacental exposures—in which the mother conveys toxicants to the embryo or fetus through the placenta— during critical windows of development can alter DNA in cells to set up the physiology for carcinogenesis (or oncogenesis), the process by which normal cells are transformed into cancer cells.

PRESIDENTIAL POSITIONING

The 2008-2009 annual President's Cancer Panel Report, released in May 2010, stated:

“The true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread…The Panel urges [President Obama] most strongly to use the power of [his] office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

In terms of preventing pediatric cancer, the Panel acknowledged that "children are far more susceptible to damage from environmental carcinogens and endocrine disrupting compounds than adults, and recommended that parents and child care providers choose foods, house and garden products, play spaces, toys, medicines and medical tests that will minimize children’s exposure to toxics. Ideally, parents should avoid exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and known or suspected carcinogens prior to a child’s conception and throughout pregnancy and early life, when risk of damage is greatest.”

THE CHEMICAL CONNECTION

Today, environmental carcinogens are everywhere. A National Institutes of Health report released last year—which was delayed four years by chemical industry lobbyists, according to the New York Times—newly established 240 substances as causing cancer, including commonly identified carcinogens such as tobacco smoke and asbestos.

Yet even dioxin, the single most potent synthetic carcinogen identified by scientists—targeted for international phase-out by a treaty signed by more than 170 nations across the world—isn’t regulated by our government. Dioxin is stored in animal fat, ingested when people consume fatty foods and passes through the placenta to fetuses. According to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, every American now has measurable levels of chemicals in his or her body.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review of dioxin that began in 1985 has been delayed for more than 20 years. Although the EPA announced last year that its assessment would be released this month, industry lobbyists—most recently the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Feed Industry Association—have protested the release of this information, arguing that releasing it would panic consumers, according to Greenwire.

TAKE A STAND

We have to take a stand. We need to know the truth about carcinogens in order to protect our kids. That’s why today we’re asking parents to urge the EPA to release the dioxin assessment this month, on schedule.

The dioxin petition kicks off a year of action focused on including environmental factors in the assessment of pediatric cancer. We’re standing up for Saoirse and Colette, the thousands of children who are battling pediatric cancer today, and others who will begin the fight tomorrow.

They deserve better. They deserve a world free of carcinogenic chemicals. And we deserve to know how to protect them. Will you join us?

To help strengthen America's toxic chemical standards, click here.

For more information, click here.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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