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Eight year olds found out why “organic uncle” may not be so crazy

Brussels, 5 February 2016 – A teaching module to introduce primary school children to the close ties between their health and the environment around them will be launched in Malta today.

About 30 teachers are expected to hear about the opportunity to adopt this new tool based on a comic strip called "Choosing our future – For a healthier life, consume chemicals in moderation" produced by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).(1)

The materials have been translated and made available in Maltese by Action for Breast Cancer Foundation (ABCF). The project has been accepted as part of the curriculum for eight year-olds in Malta.

The story is simple and humorous. It describes a family visit to an uncle who has chosen to grow his own food and avoid weed killers, pesticides and other chemical substances as much as he can. Even if he seems eccentric to the city children, the story highlights that the “organic uncle” has found a healthier way of living.

“HEAL is delighted to support this initiative in Malta, news of which we will share with other European countries.” says Lisette van Vliet, Senior Policy Officer, HEAL who will speak to the teachers.

“The children will discover that chemicals are very prevalent in their lives and that some of them are harmful. Many children will know that chemicals are used to kill insects and clean the home but fewer may be aware that the local park – and perhaps even the school playground – may be regularly sprayed with a weed killer or pesticide,” she added.

Action for Breast Cancer Foundation, who is a member of HEAL, has supported this project as part of its activities on cancer prevention, including through the promotion of a healthier environment.

Why support this project?

“We want to share knowledge that chemicals are over-used and not always safe,” says Esther Sant, Chairperson of Action for Breast Cancer Foundation. “Reducing exposure to harmful chemicals should be an important part of the country’s cancer prevention strategy.”

Pesticides and many other products containing chemicals are widely used throughout Europe, including in areas where children live, learn, and play. They have the potential to be harmful, causing effects such as damage to the nervous, hormonal and other systems. The health effects can be acute (immediate poisoning, irritant) or chronic (longer term harm, such as increasing the risk of cancer or damage to immune systems).

Pesticides may play a role in several types of cancer – including some affecting children, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast cancer, prostate cancer, some brain cancers, pancreatic cancer and testicular cancer - many of which are rising in incidence.

Scientific evidence on the link between cancer and exposure to certain chemicals, including pesticides, is growing rapidly.

Teachers, school authorities and parents tend to assume that if chemical products are on the market they are safe but this is sadly not always the case.

Ms van Vliet adds: “If anyone has any doubt that harmful chemicals are sold today, they should consider the example of glyphosate, the active ingredient in many herbicides. For World Cancer Day 2016, HEAL is calling on Europe’s most influential cancer societies to urge governments to put an immediate ban on glyphosate. The World Health Organization has categorised it is a “probable carcinogen” given that clear evidence exists that it can cause cancer in mammals.” (5)

In a letter sent on World Cancer Day (4 February) yesterday from HEAL’s President, Dr Peter van den Hazel reminds leading national cancer groups that a ban on glyphosate represents a significant opportunity in cancer prevention. (6)

Note to journalists

1. Comic strip in English - Choosing our future - For a healthier life, consume chemicals in moderation! (2012 edition)

Comic strip in Maltese - Choosing our future - For a healthier life, consume chemicals in moderation!

2. Presentation to teachers by HEAL’s Lisette van Vliet
3. HEAL press release for World Cancer Day 2016 on action to ban glyphosate
4. Open Letter to national cancer organisations


Lisette van Vliet, Senior Policy Advisor, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Email: , Mobile: +32 484 614 528

Esther Sant, Chairperson, Action for Breast Cancer Foundation, Mobile: +356 99221835

Action for Breast Cancer Foundation is a voluntary organisation campaigning for a quality assured service in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in Malta and Gozo. This initiative includes advocacy for the primary prevention of cancer, and awareness initiatives to highlight the environmental and occupational risks associated with breast cancer. Since Malta already has a National Breast Screening Service, Action for Breast Cancer Foundation calls on the government to continue to develop this service by increasing the age limit and also including high risk individuals and first degree relatives because early detection can lead to more effective treatment, better managed medical expenditure and can, therefore save many more lives.

Set up in March 2007, as an NGO registered with the public registry, the Foundation’s committee started out with four members. Later, more members came forward with an interest in joining the team and today the committee includes Esther Sant as Chairperson and Betty Lee, Sarah Cardona, Jenny Oakley, Dr Noel Buttigieg Scicluna and Laura Sammut serving on the committee. Website:

Last updated on 23 February 2016

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


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