Breast cancer giant Susan G Komen has a mission, and a noble one at that: to save lives and end breast cancer forever by empowering others, ensuring quality care for all and investing in science to find the cures. According to their website, they are the ONLY organisation addressing breast cancer on multiple fronts such as research, community health, global outreach and public policy initiatives in order to make the biggest impact against the disease.1 As the largest breast cancer organisation in America with more than 100,000 volunteers and partnerships in more than 50 countries, Komen is a household name.
Despite admitting that “making healthy lifestyle choices may reduce your risk of breast cancer,”2 Komen continually place their support behind questionable companies, whose very actions contribute to the disease they purport to be curing. The organisation also omit one very important area from their celebrated wide focus—finding the cause. How and why could this be?
A World Awash With Pink All In The Name Of Breast Cancer
Komen’s choice to partner with questionable companies is so widespread of late, the Breast Cancer Action organisation coined the term pinkwashing as part of their Think Before You Pink® campaign:
Pinkwasher: (pink’-wah-sher) noun. A company or organisation that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.3
Komen have upped the ante recently, joining forces with one of the world’s largest oilfield services corporations, Baker Hughes, to distribute 1,000 pink drill bits to oil fields worldwide. Each drill bit, which burrows thousands of feet underground to tap fossil fuel reservoirs, is “shipped to the drill site in a pink-topped container containing information packets with breast health facts, including breast cancer risk factors and screening tips,” according to energy news site FuelFix.com.4 The cute, vomit-worthy tagline for the occasion? “Doing our bit for the cure”.5
Some might ask, ‘what is the big deal?’ After all, Baker Hughes is simply the latest in a long line of shocking partnerships in the company’s history, after endorsing KFC’s “Buckets for the Cure”, which promoted oil-filled, heart-disease enhancing chicken just a few years after being sued for suspected carcinogens in its food, (interestingly, a carcinogen, acrylamide, that is also used in the fracking process).6 Ford also used pink ribbon marketing and continue to do so here in Australia7 in spite of the links between auto exhaust and an increased risk of the disease.8
Even Komen’s own brand of perfume raised concerns for its questionable chemical contents—unlisted on the label, and only discovered through deep investigation—included a chemical (toluene) banned by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), and galaxolide, a synthetic musk, and known hormone disruptor found in blood, breast milk, and even newborns.9 The important questions we all need to ask; are these products themselves fuelling a breast cancer epidemic? And does the endorsement of cancer-promoting products by the “world’s largest, most progressive face and voice of the global breast cancer movement” have moral and ethical implications?
The truth is, pink washing is just another way for the large corporate market to continue to rape and pillage the Earth, whilst they make a public commitment to ‘care’ and ‘support’ the women of the world. It’s fabulous for PR. Here’s the magic formula for pinkwashing:
- Company X declares it’s taking a stand for women’s health, thereby lifting its public profile in an empathetic light in the public arena.
- Komen receives a big, fat cheque from Company X for a nominated amount, improving their profile as the face of global breast cancer research, and encouraging other companies to hand over their money too.
- The caring public is duped into buying pink products in an effort to raise money for the horrendous disease, oft unaware of the fact that in doing so, they are innocently contributing to its spread and incidence.
In Barker Hughes’ case, the partnership ensures continual evolution of a surreptitiously rewarding profit cycle. Despite the fact that the company’s business includes hydraulic fracturing (fracking)—a process for extracting oil and gas using a mixture of water and chemicals, including multiple carcinogens,10 Komen is able to raise millions of dollars each year in an effort to cure a disease that its corporate partner is likely helping to cause. Indeed, cancer hazards are present at every stage of the drilling, fracking, processing, and distribution process.11
What the Frack?
In 2011, the Unites States Government’s Energy and Commerce Committee released the most comprehensive national assessment to date of the types and volumes of chemical used in the hydraulic fracturing process. It shows that between 2005 and 2009, the 14 leading hydraulic fracturing companies in the United States used over 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 compounds. More than 650 of these products contained known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants. Additionally, most of the fluids now used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” are left underground when drilling ends. Furthermore, the report notes that the fate of these fluids “is not entirely predictable,” and in most cases, “is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.”12
The oil and gas service companies used hydraulic fracturing products containing 29 chemicals that are (1) known or possible human carcinogens, (2) regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health, or (3) listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. These 29 chemicals were components of more than 650 different products used in hydraulic fracturing.
The BTEX compounds – benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene – appeared in 60 of the hydraulic fracturing products used between 2005 and 2009. Each BTEX compound is a regulated contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act and a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Benzene also is a known human carcinogen. The hydraulic fracturing companies injected 11.4 million gallons of products containing at least one BTEX chemical over the five year period.13
The products injected into the ground for the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process included benzene (a known human carcinogen), naphthalene (a possible human carcinogen), lead (a probable human carcinogen), and acrylamide (a probable human carcinogen). Overall, these companies injected 10.2 million gallons of fracturing products containing at least one carcinogen.
The Center for Biological Diversity recently revealed that California drinking water aquifers were polluted with billions of gallons of toxic wastewater contaminated with fracking fluid,14 water which is used by the agricultural industry for irrigation or livestock, and is contaminating our food and bodies.15
On 28th June 2014, the The Statoil Eisenbarth Pad, a Halliburton fracking site in Monroe County, Ohio went up in flames. Thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals spilled into a tributary of the Ohio River, which supplies drinking water for millions of residents.16 Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife completed an in stream assessment of the fish kill and reported an estimated 70,000 dead fish from an approximately 5 mile stretch. By 5th July, when fish collection was completed, a further 11,116 dead fish were collected (20 different species), plus 3,519 crustaceans, 7 frogs and 20 salamanders.17
The most disgraceful part of the disaster is that emergency response crews and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were unable to protect the public from the disaster due to a ‘fracking disclosure law”18 which prevented access to information about fracking chemicals held by the facility, and protected company secrets over its people.
Ohio is not an isolated case. Only six out of thirty US states undertaking hydraulic fracturing require advance disclosure of the chemicals that will be used. The remaining states allow the overseeing agency to receive chemical information but limit that agency’s ability to share the information, even in the case of an emergency.19 At the Halliburton facility, it took five days for the EPA to get a full list of the chemicals polluting the waterway. An environmental official told the press: ”We knew there was something toxic in the water, but we had no way of assessing whether it was a threat to human health or how best to protect the public.”20
The U.S. EPA Pollution/Situation Report later disclosed at least 16 different products were lost in the fire, including: hydrotreated light petroleum distillates, terpenes, terpenoids, isoproponal, ethylene glycol, paraffinic solvents, sodium persulfate, tributyl tetradecyl, phosphonium chloride and cesium-137.
Water samples of runoff indicated the presence of TPH, 2-butanone, acetone, benzene*, ethylbenzene, xylenes, toluene, bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, 1-methylnapthalene, 2-methylnapthalene, o-Cresol, m&pCresol, naphthalene, phenanthrene, phenol, pyrene, and chlorides. Surface water sampling results indicated the presence of TPH, acetone, bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, o-Cresol, phenol and chlorides downstream of the well pad.21
The EPA states that exposure to cesium-137 via waste materials, from contaminated sites, or from nuclear accidents can result in cancer risks much higher than typical environmental exposures.22 Benzene is known to cause cancer.23 Meanwhile, we’re racking our brains for the cure… If only we focussed on the cause.
Fracking For The Breast Cancer Cure?
Sadly, it is not only the environment that suffers from the ongoing process of the release of these fracking chemicals into the environment.
According to Bernard Goldstein, MD, toxicologist and former dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, “These [fracking] workers are at higher risk for leukaemia. The longer, the more frequently they do this, the more likely they are to get leukaemia particularly if the levels are high.”24 In addition to leukaemia, benzene is also a suspected cause of breast cancer.25 According to the Breast Cancer Fund (BCF), benzene presents a serious occupational hazard for people exposed through their work in oil and gasoline-refining industries. Additionally, both the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have designated benzene as a known human carcinogen (IARC, 1987b; NTP, 2005c).26
The largest studies implicating benzene in breast cancer risk are occupational studies of men diagnosed with breast cancer. Men who had worked in professions that involved exposures to gasoline fumes and combustion had statistically significant increases in rates of breast cancer.27 The effect was most pronounced among men who started their jobs before age 40.28,29
Similarly, in Australia the focus remains on finding the cure, and the pinkwashing continues. At BHP Billiton’s Cannington mine, which extracts lead, zinc and silver, contractor Redpath Australia has painted an excavator bright pink, and introduced pink work wear in the hope of raising significant funds for research into the disease.
“We believe that research is the most effective way to reduce the impact of breast cancer and eventually, eradicate it altogether. We are delighted that the mining sector recognises the importance of funding further research into this devastating disease, and we welcome their support to help us achieve our goal of zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030.”30
Mining doesn’t appear to be helping. A 1989 study of underground and above surface lead-zinc miners in Italy discovered significant excess mortality from esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, lung cancer, respiratory tuberculosis, respiratory diseases and deaths from external causes among underground miners, whilst surface workers show significantly increased mortality from liver and bile ducts cancer, hepatic cirrhosis, respiratory tuberculosis and respiratory diseases.31
An Indian study of fifty women with benign and malignant breast lesions was conducted to access the association between environmental exposure to lead and risk of breast cancer. Blood lead was significantly higher in malignant cases than in those of benign and control. Lead level was also higher in tumour tissue when compared with their respective normal tumour free breast tissue in both benign and malignant cases. These results suggest that exposure to lead may be one of the risk factors for breast lesions.32
McDonalds, Pepsi and Dove, Curing Cancer?
Komen isn’t alone in its tactical partnership with companies with questionable motives. The (Australian) National Breast Cancer Fund (NBCF) promotes ‘cause-related product marketing’, align with companies looking to uniquely position their products and increase sales, whilst raising funds for the NBCF. Touted to potential partners as a valuable marketing opportunity, a public demonstration of commitment to breast cancer research, and an opportunity to build trust and customer loyalty, this partnership favours dollars over all else. Products such as hairspray, anti-perspirant deodorant, and make-up are all given the green light under this program, despite all having questionable ingredients with a possible link to cancer.33
On one hand the NBCF promotes Platinum Partner Wild Valley, who sell “aluminium and paraben free products”, whilst providing research and references on their website linking aluminium and paraben-containing products with breast cancer.34 On the other, the Dove Pink range includes anti-perspirant deodorant, self tanner, body wash, soap and shampoo and conditioner, all containing questionable ingredients, previously linked to cancer. Where does NBCF’s loyalty lie? Does it truly want to prevent breast cancer? The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) is also another organisation with dubious partners, including McDonalds, PepsiCo and The Smiths Snackfood Company,35 not companies one may ordinarily associate with health-promoting products.
Where Does The Madness End?
About 1 in 8 (12%) US and Australian women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.36 On average, seven women die from breast cancer every day in Australia.37 Despite World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics admitting that “about 30% of cancer deaths are due to the five leading behavioural and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use, fundraising efforts continue to focus on pharmaceutical research and providing care for those already burdened by the disease.
Carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene are among the most widely used chemicals in the United States. Oestrogen and progesterone-containing contraceptive pills, and post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are both listed as known carcinogens on the cancer.org website,38 yet four of every five sexually experienced women have used the pill,39 and breastcancer.org is still recommending that women “have to weigh the benefits of HRT [reducing menopausal side-effects] against the risks [a 75% increased risk of breast cancer].”40
We are living in a mad, mad world. A world where Komen is able to raise millions of dollars each year in a futile effort to cure a disease that its corporate partner is likely helping to cause, whilst taking advantage of the ignorance and altruism of consumers looking to make a difference.
As we find ourselves lost in a sea of pink, caught up in the insanity of modern life—it is time to take a step back and ponder. As growing numbers of women on this Earth suffer, their feminine essence subjected to unnecessary disease, pain, deformity, and suffering, is there more we can do?
When we step back we are able see the bigger picture. Our toxic bodies burdened with chemicals and heavy metals, air laden with pollutants, soil heavy with radioactive waste, and drinking water contaminated with chemical byproducts, are simply mirroring the destruction of Earth. The more we look at individual pieces, the less we learn. Success lies in stepping back to see the fractal nature of our reality. We cannot separate the fracking of our lands from our incidence of breast cancer. Nor can we continue to pretend they are not the same.
The more we cut open our soil to inject carcinogens, the more women we infest with cancerous cells. The more we chop off women’s breasts, the more trees disappear to make way for oil fields and fracking. Can we really cure breast cancer in our lifetime whilst simultaneously killing Mother Earth?
As long as fracking threatens and contaminates the basic necessities of life, our food, air, and water, our women will continue to weep. For they are part of the microcosm; breathing, loving, grieving pieces of the whole. As every cell, tissue, organ, system, body, community, country, planet, solar system, galaxy, universe, multiverse takes a breath—so do we.
And as long as companies such as Komen, NBCF, and ACRF provide the perfect pink disguise—aligning with corporations who place profits above people—we will not have transformation. It is up to us—and only us—to say enough is enough. It is not time to accept the things we cannot change. It is time to change the things we cannot accept. It is time that we realise we are Infinite and Eternal consciousness, beyond space and time,41 and anything we do to Earth, we do to ourselves. Our crisis of ignorance is (thankfully) over. The seed of transformation is sprouting. Please water it liberally (with fresh, clean, structured, life-giving water…)
All things share the same breath, the beast, the tree, the man, the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. Chief Seattle