Maurizio – Omnologos

Where no subject is left unturned

Ban Ki-Moon’s Remarks on Chilean Children

In “Alarming UN report on climate change too rosy, many say” (IHT, Nov 18) Elisabeth Rosenthal and James Kanter report that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has “described […] children in Chile having to wear protective clothing because an ozone hole was letting in so much ultraviolet radiation.

Is that actually happening in Chile?

I have not been able to find any evidence supporting such a strong statement.

(1) Pubmed through keywords “chile”, “ultraviolet” and “children” shows an article by Aranibar et al [Association between sunburn in children and ultraviolet radiation and ozone layer, during six summers (1996-2001) in Santiago, Chile (33,5 degrees S)] Rev Med Chil. 2003 Sep;131(9):1011-22.

I cannot find the original article, but the abstract seems to report that the behaviour of children 6-10 is at risk of sunburn (hardly world-shattering).

(2) From that article I was able to find more relevant stuff. There is one by Abarca JF, Casiccia CC., “Skin cancer and ultraviolet-B radiation under the Antarctic ozone hole: southern Chile, 1987-2000. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2002 Dec;18(6):294-302.

It reports that people of whiter skin may suffer in Punta Arenas due to repeated exposure, and increased rates of skin cancer may be occurring, and recommends further research.

(3) Another related article is by Abarca JF, Casiccia CC, Zamorano FD., “Increase in sunburns and photosensitivity disorders at the edge of the Antarctic ozone hole, southern Chile, 1986-2000”, J Am Acad Dermatol. 2002 Feb;46(2):193-9.

It indicates the worries but lists no actual skin cancer data.

(4) Then of course there is Molgó M et al, [Sun exposure behaviors and knowledge among Chileans] Rev Med Chil. 2005 Jun;133(6):662-6. Epub 2005 Jul 22. In Spanish.

It’s a survey and reports risky behaviours. Once again, no data on Skin Cancer.

(5) I then visited the website for CONAC, the Chilean ONG about Cancers. The pages of the National Network of Ultraviolet Medicine mention a prevalence of 10/100,000 among Chileans for skin cancer

(6) As a comparison, in England the prevalence among Europeans is 13/100,000

(7) “Environmental Journalist” Stephen Lehay writes a year ago that “Ailments Surge as Ozone Hole Widens” indicating that “Diagnoses of malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, have doubled in recent years, leading Chilean health authorities to recommend avoiding direct exposure to the sun between 11:00am and 5:00pm, and especially to protect children”.

No sources and no absolute values are reported for this information.

(8) The same Lehay writes a couple of months ago “Skin Cancer Rising Despite New Ozone Deal to Cut CO2 Emissions” making a controversial connection betweeen skin cancer rates in the USA and a “crippled” ozone layer.

Being an environmental article (here in full) it can’t help predicting soaring numbers of cancer victims by 2060


In conclusion:

(a) Peer-reviewed work has not find much interest in Chilean children, or better yet in any Chilean skin cancer.

(b) At best, CONAC (the Chilean ONG on Cancer) is recommending protection in the middle of the day, but that is good advice the world over especially in summer, and nothing special about Chile.

Either children in South America are risking their lives as we speak among a global indifference, or the UN Secretary General has “sexed up” the truth.

One wonders.

Written by omnologos

2007/Nov/20 at 22:14:46

5 Responses

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  1. My “skin cancer rising” article reads: “Today, more than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year and more than 10,000 people will die as a result in the United States alone. That’s nearly 90 percent more skin cancer than in the 1960s.”

    That’s US data where ozone levels have not fallen as much as they have since 1960 as in Chile. Chile may not have comparable skin cancer stats. In southern Chile in the spring, UV radiation is amongst the highest levels in the world. A measurable verifiable fact.


    2007/Nov/20 at 23:11:44

  2. thank you Stephen. So we have the USA where skin cancer increases may or may not be associated to minor (stratospheric) ozone decreases.

    We also have Chile where the prevalence of melanoma is quite low compared to places not reknown for UV rays, like England.

    Furthermore, we do not have any peer-reviewed assessment about any increase in that prevalence, and at what rates.

    Finally, local newspaper like Patagonian Times are remarkably sanguine about the situation (don’t seem to care that much).


    You say “In southern Chile in the spring, UV radiation is amongst the highest levels in the world”. Have you got a source for that statement?


    2007/Nov/21 at 00:25:31

  3. World Health Organization:

    “Computational models predict that a 10% decrease in stratospheric ozone could cause an additional 300 000 non-melanoma and 4500 melanoma skin cancers and between 1.6 and 1.75 million more cases of cataract worldwide every year.”

    Southern Chile’s UV problem is so well known that even guidebooks warn tourists…

    Lonely Planet:
    The biggest danger in the harsh southern region of Patagonia is from nature – mainly wind and sun exposure. The hole over the ozone layer impacts severely on UV levels here, particularly in spring. Posters displaying the daily ozone danger level can be found throughout Punta Arenas. Most locals wear brimmed hats and sunglasses when outside – travelers are wise to do the same, and be generous with the sunscreen.

    do a little googling to see for yourself


    2007/Dec/03 at 00:25:38

  4. thank you for those pointers. It is precisely because I have googled around that I have asked you (but also other people, via e-mail) for indications of what the UV levels actually are in Patagonia.

    If we had those, we could then compare them to levels elsewhere, eg in the tropics, to confirm that “in the spring, UV radiation [in southern Chile] is amongst the highest levels in the world”


    From that point of view the WHO predictions are not relevant (am talking of the present, not the possible future). Also, the Lonely Planet guide may be simply repeating what everybody knows, but nobody bothers to check. After all in many parts of the world nobody walks beneath an open ladder, but that’s no proof of anything.

    Especially if the problem is so dire, there has to be better sources than that.


    2007/Dec/03 at 00:45:26

  5. “Today, more than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year and more than 10,000 people will die as a result in the United States alone. That’s nearly 90 percent more skin cancer than in the 1960s.”

    The population of the US was 179 million in 1960. The current US population is over 300 million. Get the point? Of course you would expect 90% more cases of skin cancer, there are almost 90% more people. Let us also consider that there will be a higher percentage of cancer cases reported now than there were in 1960 due to greater access to healthcare and better reporting technology. The rates have probably dropped because sun bathers and others exposed to the sun use sun screen now that they did not use in 1960.

    Kristen Byrnes

    2007/Dec/03 at 20:57:45

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