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19 December 2008 | Printer friendly

Cartoon strips show how chemicals are harming our health

Lire en française ci-dessous

The “Choosing our Future” comic strip highlights - in a humorous and simple way - the recent evidence of harm to health from certain widely used chemicals.

Produced jointly by HEAL’s Chemicals Health Monitor project and Mouvement pour les Droits et le Respect des Générations Futures (MDRGF) in English and French, the publication and associated website aim to provide readers with what is currently known about the links between health and man-made chemicals and examples of individual action and EU policy opportunities that can help produce changes for the better.

The four comic strip stories highlight different worrying aspects of exposure to man-made chemicals, such as the special vulnerabilities of the unborn baby and children, how synthetic substances are building up in our bodies, and how exposure to a mixture of chemicals known as the “cocktail effect” may be multiplying the adverse effects of exposure. The stories touch on the health conditions associated with environmental risks, such as allergies, asthma, brain development disturbances, certain cancers due to disruption to our hormone system, and fertility problems.

The publication explains the facts behind the dialogue, which are scientifically referenced. Other sections cover what the both individual and the EU can do to ensure and healthier and better future.

The author of the comic strips, David Ratte, is well-known in France for his "Toxic Planet" series that recount funny tales from a world in which the air is so polluted that everyone has to wear gas masks. The series has recently been published in English.

The Choosing our Future book and publication were launched on Monday, 1 December 2008 at the Health and Environment Alliance in Brussels. Website version is available at: www.choosingourfuture.eu.

Choosing our Future: Section by section

The book is divided into the four comic strips and five other sections: an introduction; explanations of certain key words in “Behind the dialogue” section, all of which are scientifically referenced; a “What you can do yourself” section; a chapter on EU chemicals policy, including REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Restriction and Authoristaion of Chemicals); and, a glossary.

Introduction

Two leading figures in the European environment and health movement start the book with why they believe there should be a chemical “clean-up” with the help of more effective public health policy. They point to studies showing that more than 70 man-made chemicals can be found in our bodies and that more and more scientific studies show that these substances are linked to the development of chronic conditions, such as cancer and asthma. “Do you find this shocking?” they ask.

The cartoons

Green pastures? How chemicals are harming our health is set in a park where mothers are chatting happily while their children play. They are rudely disturbed by Claire who begins to lecuture them on the environmental hazards around them, and especially for pregnant women and children. They scoff at her concerns about whether pesticides have been sprayed on the grass until they start to reflect on their own children’s asthma that might be made worse by breathing in chemical fumes.

Superman and the Martians: Life on earth means exposure to chemicals and living in a chemical soup tells the story of a painter-decorator who is scooped up from earth in a flying saucer. Scientific Martians test his blood and discover he contains 70 non-natural substances. They consider throwing him overboard before he contaminates the spaceship. However, their fears subside when tests show that his sperm count is so low that is is unlikely to reproduce. “We’ll soon be able to colonise the planet,” the martians conclude, “because at the rate they are going there won’t be anybody left.”

Unforgettable Cinderella: Beware of certain cocktails! A doomed party-goer cakes herself with cosmetics ready to meet the rich and influential at a jet-set party. Her friend warns her of some of the ingredients, which could have long-term consequences for her health - but she is not in a mood to listen. But during the evening she is struck by a dramatic allergic reaction that makes her presence at the party unforgettable in a way she hadn’t intended.

Hi Uncle! Still a bit crazy? Switching to a healthier lifestyle also means asking governments for better protection from harmful chemicals. A family visit to an eccentric uncle living the organic life in the country points to the limits on what the average individual can achieve in avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals. Tests show that one in 20 food items contain pesticide residues above EU legal limits. The background to the story reveals just how important it is that the EU and governments act on our behalf.

Behind the Dialogue

Through a series of keywords from the story dialogue, background explanations to the stories are provided and supported by scientific and government references.

What you can do yourself

In this section, readers can find links to all sorts of information and interactive tools for further information on the issues covered. For example, they can do the “How toxic are you?” quiz, discover tips on making their homes healthier, do a clean up of their cosmetics cupboard, and learn how to take advantage of new consumer rights under REACH, the EU legislation on chemicals. For women who are expecting a baby, the Danish government’s fact sheet on “Good chemistry to pregnant and nursing mothers” can be downloaded and they can also make a visit the virtual Nesting project from HEAL member Women in Europe for a Common Future, which offers guidance on making homes safe for a new baby. There are also links to videos, such as the 16-minute documentary “Contaminated without consent”.

What EU chemicals policy could achieve

Some of the recent initiatives of the European Union have made it a global model for the protection of human health and the environment. However, not all policies are yet adequately protecting our health. This section of the publication provides a review of REACH, the chemical legislation that is currently being implemented; pesticides regulation, and proposed changes in legislation on cosmetics.

It also features plans for human biomonitoring in which tracking levels of certain chemical substances over time, for example through blood tests, can help reveal whether policies introduced to reduce human exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals are actually working or not. Biomonitoring of breastmilk in recent years has shown that policy change can be effective. Since DDT was banned in Europe, trace levels in breastmilk have fallen significantly.

Glossary

As well as the scientific references that are available on the website version only, the glossary listing of terms found in Choosing our Future provides links to explanations of terms that are government or international agency website sources wherever possible.

Website

The full publication in English and French is available at www.choosingourfuture.eu. In addition, this website includes the scientific references with links to papers wherever they are available on the internet. The website version also contains a survey where readers are asked to give their reactions to what they have learnt. The information will be conveyed to European policy makers. There are also two model letters that readers can adapt to send to politicians and manufacturers about any concerns that they may have. Readers are also urged to join a new campaign on pesticides and cancer.

The website also allows the Choosing our Future book to be downloaded in English and French.

The author

The comic strips were created and drawn by the internationally renown cartoon strip artist, David Ratte. He is the author of the “Toxic Planet” series, Paquet publishers, which tells funny tales from a world so polluted that everyone is forced to wear gas masks. His website is www.toxicplanet.info.

“Choosing our Future” materials

About us:

Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) aims to raise awareness of how environmental protection and sustainability improves health and to empower the health community to contribute their expertise to policy making. Since its inception, HEAL’s membership has grown to include a diverse network of more than 50 citizens’, patients’, women’s, health professionals’ and environmental organizations across Europe which together have a strong track record in increasing public and expert engagement in both EU debates and the decision-making process. Website: www.env-health.org

Mouvement pour les Droits et le Respect des Générations Futures (MDRGF) aims to apply the « responsibility principle » in the agriculture context through citizenship actions. For the past 15 years, it has been actively promoting agricultural practice that is free of pesticides and GMOs in order to protect the environment and prevent any form of pollution now and for future generations. Each year, MDRGF is coordinating the “Week without pesticides” event planned for 20-30 March 2009: Website: www.mdrgf.org

Writen on 2nd December 2008.


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