Breast Cancer: Pink-Washing Pollutants

by Elisa Batista

October 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 t-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 CureNational 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. PVCs 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.

Please join Moms Clean Air Force and help us fight pollution.


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Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

I'd sooner give a tenner directly to a cancer charity than spend it on something pink I neither want nor need, and have a tiny percentage going to charity.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S6 years ago

Thanks for the bold story. I always always suspicious of their fund-raising tactics and overly "pinkness".

Berny P.
berny p6 years ago

I have help the Cancer research with what I could and will carry on helping...

Go and volunteer in a clinique with patients if you do not want to give money will see what cancer does and you will change your mind!

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

There is a virus that causes breast cancer in both women and female mice. Sourthern New England has both a lot of breast cancer and a lot of mice. Would mouse control help matters any?

Carole C.
Carole Chowen6 years ago

If you have not see the documentary "Forks Over Knives", do so ASAP! Much of the diseases, cancer included, suffered by so many are the result of what people put into their bodies. A plant based, whole foods diet is the best way promote overall health.

The Susan G. Koman For The Cure foundation tests on animals. It's the only thing I do not click on in "Click To Donate".

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

I'm so glad to read from people who think as I do. I have never given to cancer research for the following reasons: 1)I don't trust pharmaceutical companies. They are a huge money making industry. Create an epidemic, scare the people and watch the money roll in.
2) Hundreds of thousands of lab animals are destroyed every year to test these drugs, when let's face it, they have nothing to do with the problem and do not deserve to have this kind of pain and suffering inflicted upone them. 3) We have to start taking a stronger look at what we are doing to our environment. Constant pollution of the air we breath and the food we eat and the water we drink is the problem, pure and simple. That is where money should be going. Screw the pharmaceutical companies. They don't need any more money. Thanks for this article.

Hannah S.
Hannah Short6 years ago

they are going over bored

Kate Murray
Karen Murray6 years ago

This kind of thing needs to be said 1000 times. The big "awareness" foundations have been whoring for bucks for years, taking money from corporations whose products damage health, especially women's health. The real "awareness" problem is the lack of awareness about what everyday chemicals -- soaps, cosmetics, plastics and the like -- do to disrupt our normal metabolic processes. You can clean your house with vinegar and baking soda and a few other benign substances, you can get rid of bugs with nontoxic means and tolerate a few weeds, but people keep buying scented, dyed, fume-emitting products as if it were divinely ordained. You can do without 99% of what's on the drugstore shelf and you'll reduce your risk of cancer and hormonal problems of all kinds, but women keep buying that lipstick with the pink ribbon package and smearing it on. Wake UP, people.

Caitlin Fowler
Caitlin F6 years ago

Thanks for a really good article. I completely agree. More people need to take better care of themselves, keep healthy and avoid chemicals when they can and we would see low cancer rates.

Pamela A.
Pamela A6 years ago

I applaud the recommendation for awareness of the environmental factors contributing to BC. Glad to know that the so-called risk factors like "late menopause" and "having a child late in life" are only present in 30% of those with breast cancer given I went through menopause in my mid-fifties and had a child at age 40.

There is a nifty book called "The Slow Poisoning of America" which provides valuable information on what is in the food we eat and other chemicals like fluoride in toothpaste we use on a daily basis that contribute to poor health.

Keep raising awareness of going green in a situation where the participants’ supportive actions are inversely related to the mindfulness of the cause they are supporting.