Breast Cancer: Pink-Washing Pollutants

BY ON October 19, 2011

 Elisa BatistaOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and there’s no escaping it. Everywhere I turn, from the guy at my local supermarket’s deli wearing a pink ribbon pinned to his baseball cap, to the inundation in my email box with offers to buy pink tee-shirts, pink bracelets, and even “pink” perfume, there is no doubt that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As a woman, I certainly support the mission to find a cure for breast cancer, and even subscribe to several newsletters: Susan G. Komen For the Cure, National Breast Cancer Coalition and Breast Cancer Fund. There are many advocacy groups, and many of my friends have either raced for these groups or are affiliated with them. I read and donate when I can.

But as an environmentalist, and member of the Moms Clean Air Force, there is one pet peeve of mine: the pink-washing of toxins and pollutants that cause cancer. It will be a good day when pink mixes with green.

Most recently, Susan G. Koman for the Cure was called out by another breast cancer advocacy group, the Breast Cancer Action, for selling perfume with ingredients that are regulated as: “a) toxic and hazardous, b) have not been adequately evaluated for human safety, and c) have demonstrated negative health effects.”

According to the Breast Cancer Action website:

Many companies that raise funds for breast cancer also make products that are linked to the disease. Breast Cancer Action calls these companies “pinkwashers.” BMW, for example, gives $1 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure each time you test-drive one of their cars, even though pollutants found in car exhaust are linked to breast cancer. Many cosmetics companies whose products contain chemicals linked to breast cancer also sell their items for the cause.

Breast Cancer Action, by the way, helped draw attention to pink rubber duckies and pink bracelets that contained the toxic chemical polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVCs are used extensively in the manufacture of food packaging as well as in medical products, appliances, cars, toys, credit cards and rainwear. PVC’s also act as a hormone, or estrogen, which is linked with the development of breast cancer. It was during this time that the group released these other facts about breast cancer:

70 percent of people with breast cancer have none of the known risk factors. The so-called known risk factors, like late menopause, having children late in life, and family history of cancer are present in only 30 percent of breast cancer cases.

Non-industrialized countries have lower breast cancer rates than industrialized countries. People who move to industrialized countries from countries with low rates develop the same breast cancer rates of the industrialized country.

Estrogen is a hormone closely linked with the development of breast cancer. Numerous synthetic chemicals act like estrogen in our bodies, including common weed killers and pesticides, plastic additives or by-products, ingredients in spray paints and paint removers, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used extensively in the manufacture of food packaging as well as in medical products, appliances, cars, toys, credit cards and rainwear.

Ionizing radiation from x-rays and nuclear waste is a proven cause of breast cancer.

In other words, there is a strong link between environmental factors and breast cancer.

When will we tie the two together?

As a 34-year-old woman who has yet to receive a mammogram, I hope we make this connection and find a cure for breast cancer in my lifetime. Then all that running, wearing pink, buying and raising money won’t be in vain.


TOPICS: Latino Community, Pollution, Social Justice