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

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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.