VIDEO REPORT – 25 children affected by cancer within 15 kilometers, seven deaths. 30 kilometers from Nantes, this is the assessment that has affected the city of Sainte-Pazanne and eight neighboring municipalities since 2015. While the public authorities’ investigations have not enabled the sector to be identified as a cluster of pediatric cancers, families, on the other hand, continue to struggle to conduct new research into the still little-understood environmental causes of these diseases.
“These are years of treatment with daily chemotherapy, intrathecal injections. Lumbar punctures, bone marrow punctures. “ “My son was put on morphine to alleviate his pain, with hair loss, food obsessions, low morale. “ Like 2,500 children or adolescents each year in France, the sons of Marie Thibaud and Angélique Bocher, both four years old, were affected by cancer in the towns of Sainte-Pazanne and Machecoul-Saint-Even in Loire-Atlantique.
And if the diseases identified as pediatric cancers – leukaemias, tumors or even lymphomas – remain considered as rare diseasesHowever, 23 other cases have been reported in the region since 2015, over a radius of 15 kilometers.
No cluster identified by the authorities
With a worrying increase in pediatric cancer cases in the Pays de Retz and following the first report from an individual, it was in 2017 that the Regional Health Agency (ARS) first intervened, which then produced a first conclusive assessment “ to an excess of leukemia cases over two years among children under 15 ”.
In 2019, a new report prompted the Regional Health Agency to request an epidemiological investigation from Public Health France. As Lisa King, regional manager of the regional intervention unit, explains, these new investigations, based on scientific procedures with in particular 600 samples taken and 80,000 environmental analyzes, will not allow “To identify a common source of exposure” in the Sainte-Pazanne sector. “We had reached the limit of what we could do, so we had to hand over the research at that time.”
France in the “stone age” of environmental health and prevention
But if the hand is left to research, the current state of knowledge on the causes of pediatric cancer still remains. “Fragmented and incomplete” as Chantal Gloaguen, Deputy Director for Health and Environment at ARS Pays de la Loire, recognizes. 90% of acute childhood leukemias thus remain without a known cause, while the hypotheses are “Multifactorial causes, genetic, environmental factors or factors that would be linked to infections. There are many suspected factors, such as pesticides, whether it is where people live, exposure at home, to pesticides during pregnancy, in household uses, exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields… ”
Faced with this still limited knowledge, at the end of the public investigations in the Sainte-Pazanne sector and to treatments with still extremely serious after-effects on patients, in particular on minors, Marie Thibaud and other individuals in the region have decided to set up in March 2019 the collective “Stop the cancers of our children” to carry out, on the initiative of citizens’ committees, new environmental research on the various potential factors at the origin of the diseases of their children but also to campaign and raise awareness of environmental health issues.
“Environmental health is the impact of man on the environment, fauna and flora, and the consequences on his health and that of all living beings” explains for her part the deputy MoDem Sandrine Josso. In December 2020, this elected representative of Loire-Atlantique, questioned by the situation in her department, was appointed rapporteur of a commission of inquiry into environmental health. The goal? Present conclusions and proposals aiming to “rethink the place of environmental health in the organization of public action” and place the prevention of diseases such as pediatric cancer, diabetes, obesity or certain neurodegenerative diseases at the heart of changes in the country’s health system.
“We are in the Stone Age in this area. We know how to treat illnesses well in France, but unfortunately, we do much less preventive ” believes Sandrine Josso while reports of potential pediatric cancer clusters have multiplied in recent years beyond the Sainte-Pazanne sector, in Charente-Maritime, in Eure or even in Haut-Jura.