We’ve seen the pink ribbons, everywhere. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation is the largest breast cancer organization in America. Their mission: Race for the Cure.
Baker Hughes is one of the largest oil field service companies.
In an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer, Baker Hughes teamed up with Komen to produce a thousand pink drill bits — and they are large, say, the size of a crock pot. Their mission? “Coming together to end breast cancer forever.” These drill bits will go to well pads around the world, packed in pink boxes that include “breast health facts, breast cancer risk factors.”
When we first heard about the partnership between a breast cancer awareness group and an oilfield group, we thought it was a joke. It is not. It is offensive.
Of course every single woman in this country is aware of breast cancer because ALL of us know women — and men — who have suffered, fought, and lost battles to this terrible disease.
We should be racing for a cure. But we should be racing even harder for the causes.
Today, we know far more about what causes cancer than we understood thirty years ago, when the Susan Komen foundation was launched.
One of the most important things we’ve learned about cancers in general is how our risk increases when we are exposed to some industrial chemicals.
Another important thing we are learning? Oil and gas development and operations emit toxic industrial chemicals.
Let’s race through a list of chemicals associated with oil and gas — and the cancers linked to them.
- Formaldehyde: A known carcinogen, affecting nasal passages.
- Silica dust: Causes lung cancer.
- Benzene: A known carcinogen, linked to breast cancer. To date, occupational studies of men with breast cancer offer some of the best evidence of benzene’s link to breast cancer. Benzene is a naturally-occurring compound. When natural gas is released from rock, so is this organic compound; benzene is a component of crude oil.
People living within a half-mile of drilling and fracking operations have excess cancer risks compared to those living further away, according to a 2012 report from the University of Colorado School of Public Health.
“Benzene is the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risk,” said one researcher.
An oil company wants to educate its workers. It wants to keep their girlfriends and wives — and husbands and daughters and brothers and sisters — safe. Good for them. But do they really think that covering a drill bit in pink paint will cover up the causes of cancer?
If oil companies really want to protect women — and men — from breast cancer, they should invest in technologies that keep toxic emissions out of our air.
In the meantime, let’s race to cut out of the air all those toxic industrial chemicals emitted during oil and gas production. That’s a race worth running. And a race we must win. For everyone’s sake.