Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work

Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work

Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work is a program developed in partnership by the United Steelworkers, USW Women of Steel and the BlueGreen Alliance. The USW and BGA are working to put breast cancer (and other chronic diseases) out of work by talking about the role of chemicals in these cancers and other diseases; building coalitions with other unions, environmentalists and women’s health groups to raise public awareness; working for new policies that regulate chemicals using examples of what cities, states and leading companies are doing; and equipping workers and their employers to join the do-it-yourself safer chemicals effort to prevent harmful exposures that lead to disease.

The Problem

Worldwide, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and leading cause of death in women. Despite decades of research, the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer continues to rise, particularly among women under 50 who have no family history of breast cancer. In the United States, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

Like other chronic diseases, genes, behaviors and the environment all contribute to a women’s risk of developing breast cancer.

People always say the same things about breast cancer. What’s new?

In the last year researchers have identified a link between workplace chemical exposures and increased breast cancer risk. The key finding of this six-year study was that young women working in the automotive plastics and food packaging industry are five times more likely to have breast cancer than their neighbors working in other industries.

Researchers found that women who worked for 10 years in the automotive, agricultural, plastics, canning, and the casino, bar and racetrack sectors had elevated breast cancer risk. ThePBCOOW infographic highest risk factor – nearly five times higher than in the control – were for premenopausal women working in the automotive plastics and food-canning sectors.

A later review showed that these workers have a higher-than-normal exposure to and body burden of carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals, which are chemicals that act like estrogens and other hormones. Workers are also exposed to mixtures of chemicals rather than just one at a time. Exposure to complex mixtures may cause worse health effects than the sum of the chemicals’ individual effects.

Follow-up reports have concluded that preventing environmental exposures to harmful, endocrine disrupting chemicals is the most promising path to decreasing new cases of breast cancer. And the U.S. government is planning to develop a new national breast cancer research strategy to target research and money at prevention of breast cancer rather than just diagnosis and treatment.

Click here for more information and detail about these studies and reports.

What are endocrine disrupting chemicals?

These chemicals act like estrogens and other hormones in the body by blocking hormones and disrupting the body’s normal functions. They can change the normal level of hormones in the body by stopping or causing more hormone production. The chemicals can also change the way hormones travel throughout the body by attaching themselves to receptors that hormones normally use, which changes our bodies’ processes normally controlled by hormones.

Examples of endocrine disrupting chemicals include styrene, acrylonitrile, vinyl chloride, phthalates, BPA, brominated flame retardants, heavy metals, some solvents, and complex chemicals mixtures.

I don’t work in any of these industries mentioned, so I’m not at risk. Right?

The implications of these studies are broad and effect workers and consumers across the world. These types of chemicals are in many types of workplaces including those in the study like plastics manufacturing and food canning, but also in metalworking, rubber, oil refining, coated paper manufacturing and the chemical industry.

What’s more, the chemicals used in manufacturing end up in the products that we use at home like cleaning supplies, cosmetics and food packaging. And exposure to these chemicals can also affect men – even resulting in cases of male breast cancer as well as infertility and testicular and prostrate cancer.

Here’s how you and your local union can help!

  • Look for a 90-minute or three-hour training at USW District and International conferences and meetings OR request training for your local union.
  • Talk to your coworkers, family and neighbors about breast cancer and preventing exposures to harmful chemicals.
  • Visit www.chemhat.org to learn more about breast cancer and how we can prevent it by switching to safer chemicals.
  • Use your local union’s collective voice to join the safer chemicals effort by winning health and safety improvements such as substituting less hazardous chemicals or using engineering and design controls to prevent worker exposures.

Click here to learn more about the PBCOOW program.

Click here to download a brochure of this information with footnotes.

To request training or for more information about Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work, please contact TMC Program Coordinator Mary Krutz at 412-562-2579 or mkrutz@uswtmc.org.