BIG news from Breast Cancer UK – what they call an ‘A to Z’  list of chemicals associated with this cancer, with information on where these chemicals are found, and advice on how to avoid them. Here are the culprits they have named:

  • aluminium
  • bisphenol A (BPA)
  • brominated flame retardants,
  • glyphosate
  • parabens
  • parfum
  • perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASS)
  • pesticides
  • phthalates
  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • synthetic musks
  • triclosan

Though this list is most welcome and will be the first time a majority of women can read the  blunt, plain-language information that comes with it – kudos, BCUK! – in fact, these  chemicals and their association with breast cancer are not news to those who follow toxics. What is news – big news – is that a major breast cancer organization has stepped up and said so. On this continent, most breast cancer organizations don’t name these chemicals and are not honest enough even to clearly state the relationship between breast cancer and all the ubiquitous chemicals that are ambient in the environment or in all the products women use.

The Canadian Cancer society, for example, does have advice on cancer prevention that includes food, fitness, alcohol, smoking, genetic factors and early detection. But they don’t mention environmental toxins or even just ‘pollution’, and certainly not a list of the actual culprits. This reflects the longstanding war in the cancer field about the impact of environmental factors on cancer, and the big cancer organizations have long been on the wrong side of that fight.

So again, hats off to Breast Cancer UK.

I have three main observations on their list.



A whole industry has grown to raise money for breast cancer, whose “pink” branding raises more funds than all other cancers put together. The 2011 documentary film Pink Ribbons Inc gave voice to an ever-growing wave of anger at “pinkwashing” – a billion dollar business that purports to raise money “for the cure” but never addresses the need to “stop the cause”, and never attacks the chemical or cosmetics or other common industries that use these harmful chemicals, some of whom are sponsors.  photo credit: Rock 95

  1. THIS IS A GOOD LIST: And please take a moment to see the crucial information included for each of the chemicals in the sidebar on this page, and do visit the BCUK’s scientific briefings pages to understand more. it is highly important to know that these main chemicals, found in virtually every consumer product we use – and in all commercial (retail, office) and industrial settings – predispose to breast cancer. This list should, I hope, have a dramatic impact on people’s understanding of why we are now moving into a time when 1 in 3, soon to be 1 in 2, people get cancer. Women, be on special alert: your cosmetics are making you sick, too. Want to know how? See what Breast Cancer UK has to say.
  1. GOOD LUCK STOPPING YOUR EXPOSURE TO THESE CHEMICALS: By all means, shop as carefully as you can and do your own due diligence, which, to be clear, can be a time-consuming enterprise. Other great resources to help you: EWG (the Environmental Working Group)’s excellent resources pages are almost a one-stop-shop. Check out Environmental Defense Canada You’ll have some success but you’ll also end up frustrated because most products – from plastic bags and food tins to dental fillings and cosmetics to furniture and food implements – are not actually labelled for chemical content, so you’ll have no idea what’s in them. Which is why environmentalists have been campaigning for full disclosure labeling for so long. So, don’t get me wrong: it’s worth the effort. I’m very, very careful about what I use and bring into my own house. However, there’s a very big BUT…



Photo credit: The Smart Human

3. REALITY CHECK: THESE CHEMICALS ARE SO WIDESPREAD, YOU CAN’T SHOP YOUR WAY AROUND THEM OR ELIMINATE THEM FROM YOUR LIFE. Nobody can, because even if you find a way to control your and your family’s personal space, you can’t possibly control all the other social spaces such as work, school, recreational and commercial locations, or even the interior of your car – spaces that are simply saturated with these chemicals. This is why you need to join forces with whatever groups in your community and country that are pushing hard both for plain-language, full disclosure labelling AND for banning of harmful substances from our daily products and substitution with benign products. Because no amount of conscious shopping will be enough to stop these chemicals from being used – only regulation and enforcement can do that, and for that you need to add your voice and your efforts to the cause.

How can you really make a difference? Certainly, you can join campaigns such as Environmental Defence’s “Kicking Out Toxic Chemicals”, and lend your support to citizens’ coalitions such as Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.  But if you want to see change happen, you also need to speak directly to your politicians or get involved in politics yourself. Check out Greening our Chemical Footprint for ideas about what we should be fighting for, not just against. And check out how to make toxics a voting issue, the critical piece. If your state/provincial and federal politicians don’t know you’ll reward them for enacting legislation that makes labelling and substitution of benign (green) chemicals urgent priorities, or that you’ll and punish them if they don’t, they won’t take action on their own steam.

Let’s be completely clear: these chemicals persist in our lives because huge petrochemical companies have invested billions in oil extraction, refining and manufacturing facilities from which they make many more billions in profits.  They do not want their plants decommissioned, even if we’re all dying slowly or quickly from the chemicals they produce. The spend fortunes to you or me – see for yourself at Open – to richly and seductively lobby our governments, in effect, bribing both politicians and senior civil servants. So, someone has to provide the counterweight on politicians to radically shift away from the toxics that are threatening the viability of human as well as animal life. In the U.S., this means injecting these issues into the coming mid-terms, into state elections and into the next general election to stop the petrochem plutocrats of Donald Trump’s administration, who are slashing and burning half a century’s worth of environmental legislation. And in Canada, it means telling all your candidates in the next election you want the Canadian Environmental Protection Law (CEPA) amended clearly within the next 2 years, and then you want it and enforced, and it means not voting for the petrochem parties – the Conservatives and the Liberals. Did you know, for example, that Canada’s regulation of refinery emissions is even worse than that of the United States

Sarnia - Jim and Margaret

“Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case–control study.”   Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith were the lead authors on the 2012 block-buster paper on chemicals and breast cancer among automotive plastics workers. They won the American Public Health Association (APHA) Scientific Award in the Occupational Health category. The paper was also used as evidence in the case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada and resulted, for the first time ever, in the finding that breast cancer was an occupational disease, a long-suppressed reality.

So: do be mindful of the products you use in your own home. Don’t forget to include finding safe furniture and building supplies – those stick with you and your family for decades. Avoiding carcinogens at home is the smart, if time consuming and sometimes expensive, way to live. But don’t leave it at that. Because that alone won’t protect you or your loved ones beyond the walls of your domicile. Only a massive societal clean-up will end cancer and so many other devastating chronic diseases and disabilities caused by these chemicals. Become an eco-citizen and make chemicals a top priority.

MORE ON BREAST CANCER from “Hot Plastics in Windsor”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian and American women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers). It is the 2nd leading cause of death from cancer in women in both countries. Breast cancer can also occur in men, but it is not common. For 2017, it was estimated that 26,300 Canadian women and, for 2018, 226,000 American women would be diagnosed with breast cancer, this figure representing 25% of all new cancer cases in women in these years. It was projected that 5,000 Canadian women and 40,920 American women would die from the disease. On average, 72 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day. On average, 14 Canadian women will die from breast cancer every day. 230 Canadian men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 60 will die from breast cancer. For the United States figures are approximately 10 times greater. Breast cancer is, in a word, a scourge upon women.

But until 2016, in Canada at least, women who developed the disease as a result of their working conditions simply could not win recognition or compensation because the types of linkages between exposures to carcinogens and the incidence of the disease that employers – and compensation boards, along with them – demanded were impossible to get. The story below explains, among many other fascinating things, just why that is so.

But then, at last, a major breakthrough for women as a group and for just occupational health was finally achieved in Canada when, On June 24, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Katrina Hammer, Patricia Schmidt and Anne MacFarlane, laboratory workers who had developed cancer due to chemical exposures in their workplace. Tonie Beharrell, the lawyer representing the three women, expressed her hopes at that time that the implications of the decision would reach far beyond this case: “Hopefully workers who have been hesitant to argue causation,” she said, “will be encouraged to pursue their claims, knowing that they don’t actually need a medical opinion that says ‘your work caused your cancer’. … They can rely on a range of evidence to make those claims.”

Critical to the arguing of the women’s case, was the work of  Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith, and their paper, Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case-control study, published in Environmental Health (November 2012). Through this study the women who work with hot plastics in Windsor did not yet get to educate national politicians, but they did make their mark on Canadian jurisprudence on occupational health, and that is a beautiful thing.

The science linking breast cancer and occupational risk factors is growing to the point of undeniability. The American Public Health Association (APHA) has issued an important policy statement calling for making research on breast cancer as an occupational health and safety issue a priority. Read the APHA Policy Statement.

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