Podcast interview: Prof. Philip Landrigan on childhood cancer and the “chemical crisis”

An alarming new report shows that cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease in American children under the age of 15, and chemical exposure is believed to be the driving force. Professor Philip Landrigan is among a group of scientists who is lobbying for governments to finally confront the shocking truth.

Professor Philip Landrigan is Director of the Global Observatory on Planetary Health at Boston College in the United States, as well as Chargé de Mission within the Human Health Centre of the Scientific Centre of Monaco (CSM).

In June, he published a report titled Paediatric Cancer and the Environment: A 50-year Perspective.

It shows that, in the same years as childhood cancer deaths were falling because of better treatments, the incidence of childhood cancer – the number of new cases per 1,000 children – was increasing. Leukaemia incidence in the United States has increased by 21% since 1976, brain cancer incidence by 45%, and testicular cancer incidence by 51%.

“A lot of people don’t realise this because cancer treatment has gotten much better in recent decades and more than 80% of children with cancer now survive the disease,” Prof. Landrigan tells Monaco Life from his Boston office. “But those magnificent gains are being offset by the rising number of new cancer cases which are very, very disturbing. The only cause that kills more kids than cancer is injuries and violence. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease.”

Too rapid to be genetic in origin – “genetic changes can take centuries to play out” says the professor, scientists believe that this continued increase in the incidence of childhood cancers also can’t be explained solely by greater access to medical care or the widespread availability of new diagnostic technologies like CT scans and MRIs.

The conclusion, they say, is obvious: external, environmental factors must be responsible for part of this increase.

“We came to the conclusion that it must be something or some combination of things in the environment that is causing the increase in cancers incidence, and the most obvious candidate is toxic chemicals,” says Prof. Landrigan. “Children today are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of new chemicals that didn’t exist in their parents and grandparents time, and a number of these chemicals have already been found to cause cancer in humans.”

In fact, children today are surrounded by approximately 350,000 manufactured chemicals and chemical mixtures. These are new materials, almost all invented since 1950, produced in huge quantities. And the volume of global production is set to double by 2030. “Manufactured chemicals now pollute every corner of the planet, from the deepest ocean trenches to the heights of the Himalayas. Several hundred of them are found in measurable amounts in the bodies of almost everyone on earth, including nursing mothers, infants and children,” states the professor in his report. “Chemical pollution has become so widespread and complex that an expert body recently concluded that it exceeds societies’ abilities to monitor and contain it and thus threatens the safe operating space for humanity.”

The report analysed data from a national surveillance system in the USA which covers about 10% of the population. That’s around 130 million people followed over a span of 50 years.

“So, it is based on very large numbers,” confirms the professor, adding, “Exposure in the first two to three years of life is critical, even exposure in the womb, because when a mum is exposed to the chemicals in her food, drinking water, the air that she breaths during her pregnancy… the chemicals get into her body, and they go into the baby.

“Exposures during that time are very dangerous because the baby’s cells and organs are right in the middle of a very complex process of early development, and if a toxic chemical gets into the baby at that time, the effects can be devastating.”

The problem is that the chemicals produced are presumed harmless until they are proven to cause disease or environmental damage, and are put on the market with little or no assessment of their potential dangers.

According to the report, fewer than 50% of the most widely used manufactured chemicals have been tested for toxicity, and fewer than 20% have been examined for potential developmental toxicity.

“Right now, a chemical manufacturer can invent a new chemical, sign the commercial application for it, put it into a product, and move it out into the market place with virtually no regulatory oversight,” says Prof. Landrigan. “The result is that people are exposed to this chemical for years, or even decades, before authorities finally intervene.”

That’s beginning to change in Europe, where in 2007 the European Commission passed a legislation called REACH, which shifts responsibility from public authorities to industry with regards to assessing and managing the risks posed by chemicals.

But in most countries around the world, there is almost no oversight on new chemicals, and they are allowed to come to the market with almost no scrutiny whatsoever.

That’s why the precautionary approach is so important, argues the professor, a policy which assumes that all chemicals produced are hazardous until proven safe.

“The precautionary approach means, quite simply, that chemicals are examined for safety and toxicity before they come to market. There is nothing really new here, it is something that we have done for decades with pharmaceuticals. A company can’t bring a new medication, a new vaccine, to market without doing extensive safety testing, as we saw with the Covid vaccine. But when it comes to industrial chemicals and consumer chemicals, they just go out the door without any checks and balances.”

Professor Phillip Landrigan and his colleagues are now advocating for the same level of scrutiny that’s applied to pharmaceuticals to be applied to other new chemicals; that there be a new approach to the management of chemicals focused on the protection of health and the principle “No data, no market”, and that all existing chemicals are tested – starting with the worst ones – to determine whether they should stay on the stairs.

Strong backlash from the chemical industry is expected, but Prof. Landringan is no stranger to battling with the big corporates. In the 1970s, he was part of a team of scientists who discovered that lead was causing brain damage in children and successfully lobbied the US government to take lead out of gasoline. Every other country in the world has since followed, with Algeria being the last in 2021.

In the 1990s, he chaired a committee that looked at children’s vulnerability to pesticides. They found that kids were far more suspectable to pesticide chemicals than adults, and persuaded President Bill Clinton and the US Congress to pass the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 that greatly restricted children’s exposure to pesticides.

“Those are just two examples where the patient data coupled with science-driven advocacy persuaded governments to do the right thing, and now I think it’s time to do the same with childhood cancers,” says the professor.

Using the same strategy, Professor Landrigan and his colleagues are pushing the message that rising rates of childhood cancer are unacceptable and something must be done about it.

“It will take a few years, there will be a lot of pushback from the chemical industry, and it will depend on who is in power in the White House and in Congress over the next few years, but we will be patient and persistent. The proof is on our side and we will finally win out,” he says confidently.

Professor Landringan is also calling for more research programs focused on prevention, to finally pinpoint the exact environmental causes behind the malignant tumours in our children.





Ten-man Monaco salvage deserved draw

Youssouf Fofana’s early red card looked to put pay to AS Monaco’s chances of earning a result against Rennes, but Breel Embolo’s second-half goal salvaged a draw on Saturday.

Philippe Clement was left bemoaning a decision that could potentially have ruined the game as a spectacle. “If that was a red, we will have a lot this season,” said the Belgian coach post-match. But in front of a packed house at the Stade Louis II, Monaco dug deep to frustrate Rennes, despite the latter’s numerical advantage for over 75 minutes.

Looking for their first win of the season, Rennes started on the front foot. Their intelligent high pressing prevented Monaco from retaining possession and the home side found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to chase after the ball in the opening minutes.

However, the first big chance of the match fell to Vanderson, who cut in on his left foot just outside the box to rifle a shot onto the bar of Steve Mandanda’s goal. Monaco were growing into the game, but their progress was curtailed just moments later when Fofana was shown a straight red for a marginally late challenge on Martin Terrier.

The VAR didn’t see enough to overturn the decision, and Monaco faced the tough task of trying to salvage something, anything against a side, who last season only very narrowly missed out on Champions League football.

Clement, naturally, prioritised defensive solidity; off came captain Wissam Ben Yedder and on came young Soungoutou Magassa to make his debut in difficult circumstances. Embolo stayed on to lead the forward line, to hold the ball up and hassle and harry in the press.

Rennes mustered a string of half chances, drawing saves out of Alexander Nübel, but the best chances of the first-half would surprisingly fall to Monaco.

Mandanda clattered into Embolo in the box, landing a fist on the Swiss international striker’s head. Unsurprisingly the penalty was awarded, but the veteran goalkeeper can consider himself lucky not to have received a red card.

Clement told Monaco Life, “He (Mandanda) hits the head. It’s much harder than Fofana’s action, a lot harder. The head is a lot more dangerous.” Last week Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was shown a straight red card for an almost identical incident.

Mandanda made the most of his reprieve. Without Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland on the pitch and given that Embolo had just taken a severe blow to the head, Axel Disasi took the responsibility and stepped up to take the penalty. His penalty lacked power and Mandanda guessed right to keep the scores level.

Mandanda was decisive once again just seconds later as an outstretched arm denied Krépin Diatta one-on-one from close range, before Vanderson blazed over at the back-post when he ought to have done better. Despite the red card, Monaco would have been disappointed not to be leading going into the break.

Against the run of play, Rennes took the lead in the second-half. Gaëtan Laborde slotted past Nübel from close range after a Benjamin Bourigeaud shot was bundled into his path. A goal down and a man down, Monaco had their work cut out to salvage anything from a tie that they had largely dominated, but they were given a lifeline thanks to a goalkeeping howler.

Dogan Alemdar, on for Mandanda, who was taken off at half-time due to an injury sustained during that clash with Embolo, was caught napping. Embolo steamed in to tackle the goalkeeper, who was caught unawares and the tackle itself was enough to divert the ball into the back of the net.

Thereafter, neither side could break the deadlock. Rennes pushed for the winner, but the well-set Monaco defence remained resolute and didn’t allow the away side a sniff at goal. The game finished 1-1 and Monaco remain unbeaten in the league since 13th March, whilst Rennes remain winless.

Post-match, Clement praised the “solidarity” of his players. “There are good things to take away,” began the Belgian coach. “But I’m ambitious and I want to win every match. I regret Fofana’s red card in the 15th minute, which I found severe in the circumstances. After that, the players showed an irreproachable spirit and a great solidarity,” he continued.

Monaco next welcome RC Lens to the Stade Louis II next Saturday, where they will be hoping to build on the strong start to the season, and take revenge on a side that deprived them of second place in the league in the dying seconds of last season.




Photo above by Luke Entwistle, Monaco Life




Retail trade up from Covid lows, but not as strong as hoped

IMSEE’s Monthly Retail Trade Survey shows that the retail sector hit above average levels in May, but didn’t perform as well as anticipated in the month of June.

Retail trade in the Principality has made huge strides in making a comeback since the darkest days of the pandemic. The entirety of 2020 saw retail hitting new lows, with the composite index falling to the lowest point in spring of that year.

Since then, retail trade has steadily and slowly crept back up, with the composite index hitting 100, the “break even” point, in January 2021. It’s been a roller coaster since, but generally, things have stayed about that average, if only just.

Hopes have been high in the sector for this summer, with holidaymakers finally returning and people not being under any form of restrictions, but the picture has not exactly lived up to the hype.

According to IMSEE’s Monthly Retail Trade Survey, the composite index for May showed a rather strong 114, with a general business outlook, recent sales and expected sales figures all up. This strong showing had to do in part with the Grand Prix returning, as well as general excitement about the coming months.

By the end of June, the picture was not as bright as anticipated. The composite indicator had dropped three points to 111 and the general business outlook fell by six points to 12.

Furthermore, recent sales were down from the May high of 31 to a rather disappointing nine, although expected sales were up from 26 to 30.

Ordering intentions have risen and are above average, and selling prices are at their highest levels ever, partly as a sign of these inflationary times and partly as retailers struggle to make ends meet.

The workforce in this sector remains steady, and future expectations on this front also are stable. This bodes well as customers are returning to the shops in high numbers. These high attendance levels don’t always translate to sales, but the trend does give hope.

Malang Sarr: “I’m coming back to France completely different”

AS Monaco completed the loan signing of Chelsea centre-back Malang Sarr on Wednesday. During his presentation, the former OGC Nice player says that he is returning to Ligue 1 “completely different”.

Having left Nice to join Chelsea on a free transfer back in 2020, he now returns to the French Riviera to join fierce rivals Monaco. He initially joins on a one-year loan with an option to buy that could become an obligation to buy, as sporting director Paul Mitchell revealed to Monaco Life. However, it is unclear what triggers that clause.

Although French youth international Sarr is already a familiar face to many French football fans, he insists that the player they will see take to the field at the Stade Louis II is unrecognisable to the one that left.

“I discovered what was a very high level at Chelsea. I first did a pre-season with the team, before being loaned to FC Porto, which made me grow and taught me a lot. I think that the experiences that I have had outside of France in the past years have brought me a lot. I’m coming back completely different,” said Sarr.

He added, “On a footballing level, I think I’ve progressed in all aspects of my game. On a human level, moving out of my ‘comfort zone’ was a great experience for me. It allowed me to discover another culture abroad, another language, and I think all of that allows me to come back here and be a lot more mature and a lot more certain of a lot of things in life, but also on the pitch.”

He then elaborated on his time at Chelsea, telling Monaco Life, “It’s quite easy to progress there, to be honest when you have the right mentality and you have the chance to learn alongside players like Antonio (Rüdiger) and Thiago (Silva). I took all of their advice because they know perfectly the requirements of the very high level.”

At Chelsea, Sarr was competing for a space in the starting line-up against arguably the best left-sided centre-back in the world, Rüdiger. He is therefore no stranger to having to compete for his place in the side. Should Monaco line-up in a back three, he will find himself likely competing with Benoît Badiashile, whilst if Philippe Clement opts for a back four, Sarr will also come into competition with Axel Disasi and Guillermo Maripán. Given their performances in recent weeks and months, Sarr will also face a great challenge in nailing down a starting spot at the Principality club.

“I’m happy to be here because I’m used to competition. We need competition because the club is ambitious. I think that everyone sees that these are ambitious players as well. We’re going to help each other and that can only be a positive for the club,” Sarr told Monaco Life.

Mitchell concurred with his latest recruit, adding, “I think the main thing he brings is real competition. We said we wanted to strengthen the whole squad this year and if you look, in more or less every position, we have real competition. He brings quality, he brings strength, he brings in agility, and he brings a maturity that I don’t think he had when he was last in France.”

He continued, “I think French football fans will see a totally different player to the one that left. He also gives options. I know at times in pre-season we utilised a back three; Malang is used to playing in that system as well, but he is strong in a two as well. He brings real competition, high quality and maturity above his young years.”

Clement also expressed his delight at the club’s latest recruit. For the Belgian coach, Sarr brings competition, but he also brings options. “We need a selection with enough possibilities,” he began. “So, we needed an extra player in this part of the pitch and we looked at lots of players and Malang was one of my priorities in this list because he has a lot of qualities that can help this team. He has strength and the pace to play high as well and play with lots of space behind him. Being left footed as well, that gives variation. Maripán has done well on the left the last couple of weeks, but it isn’t natural for him. With the four players we have a good opportunity to rotate well so that at any given time, the two centre-backs can play at 100%,” he continued.

Although Sarr is most accustomed to playing as a central defender, he has also in the past been utilised as a left-back and, stressing his commitment to the collective, he said that he would “happily” fill in on that left flank if need be.

But what is certain is that he isn’t being brought in to play at left-back and, as Mitchell stated, nor is he being brought in to replace Badiashile who is reportedly being coveted by some of Europe’s elite. “That definitely isn’t our idea (that Sarr replaces Badiashile). That’s not the reason that we bought Malang. The reasoning is very transparent for me. We want a competitive squad and real competition running throughout the team,” said Mitchell.

He continued, “We spoke before coming here today about playing to win every competition. Malang knows, coming from Chelsea, that has to be the mentality, not only at Chelsea, but also at Monaco. We want players with that mentality. The reason he is here is to compete and compete with the players we have, who are performing well.”

Having featured in Chelsea’s pre-season friendlies, notably in fixtures against Arsenal and Charlotte, Sarr won’t need long to get up to speed. That was confirmed by Clement, who revealed that his physical tests upon joining were “really good”.

Sarr is already looking forward to pulling on the famous Monégasuqe diagonale, and particularly for the derby against his former side, Nice. The local rivals face each other in early September. Asked about how it will feel to return to the stadium where he grew up and developed, he told Monaco Life, “I’ll feel good because it’s a derby, it’s a big match to play in. To be honest, the club and the supporters know that I always gave everything for the club. For me it will be a special match for sure. I’ll take it like any other match. I don’t know what awaits me there, but I have the intention to go there and to – as always – give my best performance and help my team win the match.”

Having “felt the ambition” of the club during the discussions that ultimately brought him to the club, he will be hoping to allow the club to achieve those ambitions this season, and secure Champions League football for next season. In a symbiotic relationship, the club can also help Sarr achieve his personal objective of gaining more game time, and should this fixed-term relationship prove successful

Having “felt the ambition” of the club during talks with the management, Sarr now hopes to play a considerable role in helping Monaco achieve those ambitions, whilst also fulfilling his own ambition of obtaining regular game time. Whilst, for now, Sarr and Monaco are only temporarily wedded, should the ambitions of both the club and the player be mutually fulfilled, there is no reason why he can’t become more of an integral, long-term element of this Monégasque project.



Photo above: Paul Mitchel and Malang Sarr by Monaco Life