Would you eat oranges grown with oil wastewater? You might be already without knowing it.
Wonderful Citrus, the U.S.'s largest citrus grower and the company behind the popular Halos mandarins and Bee Sweet Citrus, another huge citrus grower, are using leftover wastewater from oil companies to irrigate their citrus—while also using pink ribbons to sell them.
The use of oil wastewater for food irrigation is expanding rapidly in California—the U.S.'s third largest oil-extracting state, which also produces more than a third of the nation's veggies and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. Oil corporations are increasingly supplying their wastewater to California-based agricultural companies like Bee Sweet and Wonderful to use for food irrigation during an historic drought. As this type of irrigation is set to expand, we believe this is an urgent public health issue because of the potentially hazardous chemicals associated with the oil extraction process.
#California Farmers Irrigate Crops With Chevron’s Oil #Wastewater in Drought-Stricken Central Valley https://t.co/1LJS7jnNCc via @EcoWatch— Simon Mainwaring (@Simon Mainwaring)1455161413.0
Companies use pink ribbons to gain customer loyalty and increase their sales. After all, pink ribbons are profitable. But companies shouldn't put their profits before our health.
Bee Sweet Citrus puts a pink ribbon on their Sweetheart Mandarin labels "to achieve prevention and find a cure for breast cancer in our lifetime." And Wonderful Citrus participates in an in-store cause-marketing promotion called Pink Ribbon Produce, aimed at "uniting the produce industry in the fight for breast cancer."
Both of these companies claim to care about women with breast cancer and are using pink ribbons to sell their products—all while failing to protect farm workers and the public from the potential health risks of using oil wastewater to irrigate their citrus. We call this pinkwashing.
Oil companies use hundreds of chemical additives during the oil extraction process—to drill, maintain and clean their wells. In addition, the oil extraction process releases chemicals that are trapped underground. So when oil is extracted from underground reservoirs, wastewater comes back up with it and can contain all sorts of chemicals. Oil wastewater used for food irrigation has been found to contain the chemical benzene, a known human carcinogen linked to breast cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for benzene in drinking water is zero, which means "there is no dose below which the chemical is considered safe."
In a new report released earlier this month by PSE Healthy Energy—Healthy Energy, University of California—Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific, researchers call for a more thorough investigation of the potential health risks associated with using oil wastewater for crop irrigation in light of the potential health harms and gaps in safety testing.
The report finds that despite oil corporations being required to report chemical additives, 38 percent of the chemical additives could not be "sufficiently identified for preliminary hazard evaluation" because oil corporations are concealing them as trade secrets. Of the chemicals these scientists were able to analyze, they found that "43 percent of them can be classified as potential chemicals of concern from human health and/or environmental perspectives." They found that 10 chemicals are known or potential carcinogens. And they didn't even evaluate which chemicals are hormone disruptors, a class of chemicals which is linked to increasing our risk of breast cancer.
Current tests of oil wastewater used for food irrigation only look for some of the chemicals used in the oil extraction process. Because of the gaps in testing and treatment, an independent council of scientists commissioned by the State of California recently recommended that wastewater from fracking operations should not currently be used to irrigate our food. But the potential public health risks of the chemicals in oil wastewater are not limited to the fracking process and this report extends the recommendations to include wastewater from any oil operations. We, along with other public health groups and scientists, believe that wastewater from all oil extraction processes should not be used to grow our food, to protect both farm workers and the public from potential public health risks that have not been adequately studied.
Why #Fracking Is a Breast #Cancer Issue http://t.co/Z27YSnDwDl @BCAction @gaslandmovie @MarkRuffalo @BillMckibben ⊕http://t.co/3tf3YY3zui— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1422380548.0
Using oil wastewater to irrigate our food has not been proven safe—neither for the health of the public nor for the health of farm workers, who are exposed firsthand to these chemicals. In fact, an expert panel is currently reviewing the potential health risks associated with using oil wastewater for food irrigation—while the state is still permitting this type of irrigation. A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates the role of our everyday exposure to toxic chemicals in increasing our risk of breast cancer. We need to put the brakes on this process immediately.
In August 2016, we joined with 350,000 concerned people who wrote to California Gov. Jerry Brown, urging him to end the use of oil wastewater for food irrigation. To date, he has failed to do so. In the absence of strong government action, we're calling on Bee Sweet Citrus and Wonderful Citrus to stop using oil wastewater to irrigate their crops while using pink ribbons to sell their citrus—a practice we call pinkwashing.
Instead, these two companies, which are huge players in their local water districts, should stand up for women affected by breast cancer. We believe they have the power not only to stop using oil wastewater to grow their own citrus crops, but also to stop the use of oil wastewater for growing food altogether.
Send a letter to Bee Sweet Citrus and Wonderful Citrus to tell them to stop pinkwashing. Tell them to stop irrigating their produce with oil wastewater and to use their power to ensure that oil wastewater is not used to irrigate any of our food.
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Chemical Safety Reform Bill Headed to Obama's Desk Lets Down Women With and at Risk of Breast Cancer
Cost. Quality. Color. These are some of the things we consider when choosing which products to buy.
I run a breast cancer watchdog organization, which for 26 years has been a leader in calling for protections from chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer. The outreach flyer for the first meeting to form Breast Cancer Action read: “Our goals are education and political action to prevent a further rise in the incidence of breast cancer; indeed, we hope that our efforts will serve in the future to lower the breast cancer rate in the United States."
You would think that our founders, only one of whom is alive today, would be pleased then to see that long-overdue updates to chemical safety regulations are nearing the president's desk. Unfortunately, the compromise bill that resulted from approximately a dozen years of negotiations puts industry interests first and lets down women at risk of and living with breast cancer.
Most of us assume that anything that makes it onto store shelves is fully regulated and appropriately safety tested to ensure that we aren't harmed from using them. Unfortunately, that has never been true. And despite much-touted reforms to chemical safety laws, it is still “buyer beware" when it comes to chemicals linked to breast cancer.
The problem with putting the burden of protecting their own health on the public is that essentially none of us are equipped with the knowledge and expertise necessary to do so. This is not a question of passing a high school chemistry class. This each-for-her-own approach basically asks each of us to individually develop the safety-standard expertise of entire research groups and regulatory agencies in order to assess whether a particular chemical in a particular product is linked to health harms. Rather than accepting this requirement to become our own U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we should continue to demand that our government act to protect our health—no matter who we are or how much we know about toxicology or epidemiology.
The primary law that has regulated chemicals used in everyday products for the past 40 years is called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Since it was first introduced, TSCA has failed to protect us from toxic chemicals in everything from sippy cups to saucepans. Under this weak law, since its passage in 1976, the EPA has been able to limit the uses of just five of the 85,000 chemicals currently on the market. For more than a decade, Breast Cancer Action has been working alongside other environmental health organizations to demand lawmakers update this toothless and out-of-date law.
Unfortunately, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, as the current compromise bill is optimistically named, puts corporate interests before public health and fails to improve chemical safety regulations for people living in the majority of states. This bill that Congress is preparing to send to the president for signature—barring further delay from Sen. Rand Paul—is a missed opportunity to reduce the incidence of cancer and other diseases and disorders.
How could efforts at reform fall so far short of the goals of environmental health advocates who have been working on this issue for years? It has often been said that “laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made" because of the messy, slow and too often mysterious process of making both.
To shorten a long story, by 2013 after nearly a decade of environmental health advocates working together on the issue, it appeared that a strong TSCA reform bill had a chance of moving forward. Seeing change on the horizon, industry moved quickly to hijack these efforts to improve TSCA. In fact, the Senate version of the bill was written by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry's biggest lobbying group. The resulting compromise bill fails to protect the public from exposure to harmful chemicals in consumer products—ultimately failing to prevent cancer.
As others before me have noted, it is testament to the power of the environmental health groups working on the issue for so long that the current bill is not worse than it is. Even though the revised TSCA doesn't go far enough in protecting public health, these partner groups were able, through diligence and collaboration, to prevent critical roll backs of safety in a few key areas. And there is ground for improvement in some areas such as giving the EPA some ability to assess a chemical before it enters the market and requiring the EPA to consider the most vulnerable populations.
But in other areas—particularly for states with the strongest regulations—we are going backwards when it comes to protecting the public from chemicals linked to breast cancer and other health problems. One of the biggest problems is a provision, referred to as the “pause" provision, that would block a state's ability to protect their residents from toxic chemicals—even when federal action is years away. This provision would stop the ability of states to create and implement laws around a toxic chemical as soon as that chemical went under review by the federal government—a process that can take years! During that time, states cannot protect their residents from exposure to these chemicals of greatest concern.
In the context of weak federal laws, stronger state protections have been important in both protecting their own residents and residents of other states. As a matter of practice, companies manufacturing or selling products in states with strong protections have often ended up lifting the standards for all of their products, even in states with weaker laws. We should not be sinking to the lowest denominator but instead raising everyone up to the highest level of protection.
In the U.S. we live in the richest country in the history of the world, with the world's largest economy and an astonishing assortment of consumer products of every kind. We should be able to trust that our laws uphold the highest health and safety standards to protect us from cancer and other diseases and disorders.
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Cancer Prevention Needs Attention Too: What if We Weren’t Exposed to 80,000 Toxic Chemicals Every Day?
Vice President Biden and I have something in common that I wish we did not share. We have both lost a loved one to brain cancer.
The Vice President's 46 year old son, Beau Biden, died from the disease earlier this year.
Fifteen years ago, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, enjoying a blissful summer-long reunion with a dear college friend from the Midwest. Her joyful revelry in discovering San Francisco as an outgoing young, butch, queer woman, was occasionally interrupted by severe headaches. We were all shocked when she was diagnosed with brain cancer at the end of the summer. She died 20 months later, five days shy of her 29th birthday. I was heartbroken and still, so many years later, still sometimes lose my breath at the realization that she is no longer here.
My fabulous friend Danielle Drumke was the first person in my inner circle to die of cancer. I wish I could say that she was the last.
As the first meeting of the government's new “moonshot" initiative on cancer convened today, headed up by Vice President Biden, I'm reflecting on what could come of this initiative—and what's missing from its framework.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 1.7 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer each year. Approximately 600,000 people die of cancer. It's estimated that one in two men and one in three women will experience cancer in their lifetimes.
Though there have been a handful of dramatic advances for some cancers in recent years, many other cancers lag behind with few treatment options. In the more than 40 years since President Richard Nixon launched the War on Cancer, cancer treatments have moved beyond radical surgeries and mega-dose chemotherapies to include new, less-damaging chemotherapy regimens and also new targeted therapies for some cancers.
Unfortunately, many of these systemic treatments are highly toxic, taking both an immediate and all too often a long-term toll on the health and well-being of cancer patients. Anyone who has experienced or supported a loved one through common treatments for cancer is familiar with the terrible physical effects. Some of these—such as mouth sores and diarrhea—people experience while in treatment, and others—like heart disease—they may not experience until years later.
The millions of cancer patients undergoing treatment desperately need more effective, less toxic and less costly treatments. And my sincere hope is that we will see major advancements, especially for the most lethal cancers, with new treatments which extend and improve overall survival and do not come at the cost of serious, even life-threatening, side effects or bankruptcy.
I wish there had been this option for my friend Danielle, and for my loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer in the years since she died.
Like so many people diagnosed with cancer, Danielle couldn't help but ask “Why?" Why her? Why did a healthy young woman develop brain cancer in her 20s?
No one knows.
Most brain tumors are unexplained, although age is thought to be a risk factor for cancer in general. Exposure to radiation is one of the only known risk factors for brain tumors, although, like many cancers, some chemicals have been linked to increased risk of brain cancer.
What we do know is that the overall incidence of cancer has been increasing in recent decades. And there is a compelling—and growing—body of evidence linking this troubling trend to toxic chemicals in our daily environments: carcinogens in our air and water, hormone disruptors in our food packaging and personal care products.
There are more than 80,000 chemicals in commercial use. Chemicals in products we all use every day. Chemicals to which we are all exposed throughout the course of our lives—no matter how much we may told to try to shop our way out of it.
The legislation “regulating" chemicals is the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). I put the word regulating in quotes because when it was passed in 1976, TSCA exempted about 60,000 chemicals from testing for safety. And in the 40 years since TSCA was passed, only 200 chemicals have been tested for human safety. Out of these, only five chemicals have ever been restricted due to their harmful impact on human health.
The conclusion is not that we have about 80,000 harmless chemicals on the market; the shameful truth is that our regulators and legislators have been asleep at the wheel while we've all been exposed to countless toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems.
Even those chemicals which are widely recognized to be harmful to human health have proven extremely hard to limit. To put things in perspective, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tried to use TSCA to restrict asbestos 20 years ago and failed. It hasn't tried since. And the law has never been updated since its passage in 1976.
The prevalence of chemical exposures and the gaps in our regulatory system cannot be ignored in the context of rising cancer rates more broadly. The same chemicals that can increase the risk of cancer are also thought to be linked to other diseases and health disorders: fertility issues, autism, diabetes, even obesity.
Not so many years before President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative at the 2015 State of the Union, and the “Moonshot" Initiative in his 2016 State of the Union, the President's cancer panel released a report in 2010 pointing to the role of environmental exposures to chemicals in a range of cancers. The report was an urgent call to action: “The panel was particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated."
We have come a long way in our understanding of the links between environmental toxins and human health harms in the 50 years since Rachel Carson sounded the alarm on DDT; role of everyday chemicals in increasing the risk of cancer has become widely recognized. If we want to truly end the epidemic of cancer that we're seeing, we need much better treatments, but we also need more than that. We need aggressive, public-health centered action on the toxic chemicals we're all exposed to that increase our risk of cancer. Without emphasizing prevention in addition to cures, no “moonshot" initiative to end cancer's death toll will succeed.
In announcing that he is putting Vice President Biden in charge of the new “moonshot" initiative, President Obama poignantly said: “For the loved ones we've all lost, for the family we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all."
While there is no question that we desperately need new, safe, effective and affordable treatments for many cancers, there is another equally important path we must also pursue: preventing cancer in the first place.
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It's outrageous that the products that each of us use every day as part of our hygiene, self-care and beauty regimens are full of harmful chemicals, linked to a range of health problems including breast cancer. You would hope that when the country's largest cancer charity gives products to cancer patients as part of a psychosocial support program, it would uphold the highest safety standards.
Unfortunately, that's not the case. At least that's not the way the Look Good, Feel Better program works.
On the surface, the fear and urgency of a new breast cancer diagnosis seems far removed from a huge international trade deal. And yet, as the executive director of Breast Cancer Action, I am acutely aware of how the highly contested Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) threatens the health and well-being of women.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Although negotiations between the world's biggest economic players can feel disconnected and distant from the day-to-day issues of women living with or at risk of breast cancer, the truth is these massive multinational trade deals play out in ways that directly impact all of us. These impacts include restricting access to affordable cancer treatments and increasing our exposure to chemicals that increase our risk of cancer.
The TPP is a sweeping free trade deal negotiated in secret by the U.S. and 11 other Asian and European countries, with the “help" of more than 600 corporate advisors, including institutions and corporations that produce policies or products linked to breast cancer, like the American Chemistry Council, Avon and Chevron. Yet, while these multibillion dollar giants have a seat at the table, the public is forced to rely only on leaked snippets of information about the trade deal that will impact many aspects of our lives—and bodies.
And as if the secretive and back room deal politicking isn't bad enough, President Obama has asked Congress to give him authority to quickly pass, or “fast-track," the deal. Yesterday the Senate said "no" to moving forward with Fast Track—and we must keep the pressure on.
As the head of a watchdog organization for the breast cancer movement, I work to ensure that public health and patient interests come before those of big business—and I say no way to secret trade deals that harm our health and well-being, especially when we have no say in the matter. I am outraged that information revealed so far about the TPP shows that while it will be great for multinational corporations, it would be, as is too often the case, terrible for our health.
The TPP both threatens access to affordable treatments and limits regulation that protects the public from toxic exposures and processes. This means that not only will more people be exposed to chemicals that are known and suspected to cause health harm, but the treatments for these medical problems will be more expensive as a result of the TPP.
Cost of treatment for breast cancer (and other) patients is a critical issue in the U.S. Too many women already experience first-hand the exorbitant cost of cancer drugs in the U.S.: 11 out of the 12 cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 cost more than $100,000 per year. The current U.S. patent system is designed to reward drug companies for introducing new treatments by providing them with a period of exclusivity, during which no other drug company can sell a competing or generic version of that drug.
The Obama administration once acknowledged that an important step in making cancer treatments more affordable is by limiting this period of exclusivity so that generic options can come onto the market more quickly and provide cancer patients with affordable treatments options. Despite this, the administration is reportedly pushing for market exclusivity periods to last 12 years.
According to language in the TPP's leaked intellectual property chapter, the trade deal would require all participating countries to enact automatic market exclusivity periods on many essential medical drugs, including biological therapies used to treat cancer. In this way, no country would be able to take action within their borders to bring down the cost of treatment by reforming the patent system or reducing the period of exclusivity. It could also limit the U.S. government from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices and better reimbursements for patients requiring Medicaid and Medicare. And it would spell disaster for developing countries signing on to the deal.
By locking all 12 nations into patents with long exclusivity periods, the TPP removes any chance for participating countries to take action to reduce the cost of breast cancer and other medical treatments. The TPP would limit access to life-saving treatment by keeping drug prices high—and out of reach of too many patients. This is unacceptable and wrong.
The TPP will include an “Investor-State Dispute Settlement" (ISDS) provision, which allows international investors—mainly multinational corporations—to sue a country if its laws interfere with their profits. Corporations are able to bypass domestic courts and go before an international tribunal of private lawyers, who can, in turn, force nations to pay compensation or “reparation" to corporations—sometimes handing over millions in taxpayer dollars. While ISDS is a provision in many international trade agreements, the TPP expands the current reach of ISDS to thousands of corporations in the twelve countries signing on to the trade deal.
Currently, the nation's fifth-largest pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, is using an ISDS to challenge Canada's drug approval process. After finding that one of Eli Lilly's drugs was not effective, Canada invalidated one of its drug patents. In response, Ely Lilly is attempting to use the ISDS provision under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to sue Canada for $500 million. The TPP threatens to expand the power of pharmaceutical corporations like Eli Lilly to set and maintain high drug costs—and high profits at the expense of patient well-being.
Not only do the TPP and its ISDS provision threaten to keep the costs of breast cancer treatments high, this trade deal will also erode efforts to stop cancer before it starts—meaning more and more people may need these exorbitantly expensive cancer treatments.
Health activists, environmental justice activists, and healthcare professionals have long sought strong chemical policy reform in the U.S. to limits exposures to toxic chemicals—some of which have been linked to breast cancer—in consumer, personal care, and household products. While we have a long way to go to strengthen the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) and other chemical regulatory policies, the TPP would enable countries importing goods to the U.S. to bypass our existing chemical safety regulations. As a result of ISDS, countries signing on to the TPP won't be held to U.S. standards for chemical safety when importing their goods here.
Similarly, activists across the country have been fighting for both local and national bans on fracking, a process using many chemicals linked to breast cancer and other health harms. But because of ISDS, foreign oil and gas corporations could sue the U.S. if they assert that our fracking bans interfere with their profit – thus undermining the important work the anti-fracking movement is doing in the U.S. to limit its toxic impact.
We must take a stand and demand public health comes before corporate profit. We must stand against the TPP which blatantly and unapologetically shifts power away from people and toward corporations. Not only would the TPP block vital work to reduce toxic exposures that increase our risk of breast cancer in the first place, the TPP threatens access to affordable and effective treatments for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Now is the time to tell our Congressional representatives: Don't trade away our health.
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Most people consider fracking a climate change issue. They are able to make the connection between a potent greenhouse gas like methane and its impact on warming the planet. But methane emission leaks at well sites are only one of the many concerns of the fracking boom. The toxic process also uses more than 700 chemicals, many linked to breast cancer. Fracking threatens the necessities of life, and just as this process drives climate change, it also increases our risk for breast cancer.
So what else does climate change have in common with breast cancer? Both are a growing threat that demands urgent action to prevent irreversible harm.
Breast cancer is a public health crisis. Each year, nearly a quarter of a million women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and 40,000 women die of the disease. Disturbingly, the chance a woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her lifetime has risen over the last fifty years from 1-in-20 in the 1960s, to 1-in-8 today. And as the incidence of breast cancer has risen, so too has the incidence of other cancers such as liver, thyroid, brain and pancreatic cancers. Adding to the alarm, the incidence of childhood cancers associated with environmental factors is also rising.
Nearly five years ago, the President's Cancer Panel declared they were “particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated [and] … the American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures." Yet, since this powerful declaration, our federal legislators have failed to act to protect public health.
In truth, we currently live in a toxic soup of chemicals. In the absence of a federally adopted, nationwide, state-enforced precautionary approach to health and environmental safety, how are we to protect ourselves and future generations from breast cancer? Our chemical regulations fail us and need to be strengthened in so many areas: from consumer products to industrial chemicals to medical products to food packaging, to name only a few. And one of the most important and growing pathways of exposure to cancer-linked chemicals that endangers our health and increases our risk of breast cancer is fracking.
Fracking is an extreme form of energy extraction that involves mixing tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals with millions of gallons of water and pumping the mixture underground at extreme pressure to break up rock formations and release oil or natural gas. Despite the dangers inherent in fracking, the industry-friendly Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts oil and gas industries from more than a dozen environmental regulations, including the federal Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. What is widely called the Halliburton Loophole to the Safe Drinking Water Act (pushed by Vice President—and former Halliburton CEO—Dick Cheney) allows oil and gas drillers to inject known hazardous materials directly into or adjacent to underground water supplies.
Fracking is growing at a scale and pace that threatens the health of everyone in the U.S. In our highly interconnected world, it is not only the millions of families that live in communities affected by fracking whose health is on the line; we are all at risk of toxic exposures as water is pumped from fracked areas to cities, as fracking in agricultural regions contaminates food put on kitchen tables across the country, and as air carries contaminants in unpredictable and untraceable ways. Unlimited and poorly regulated fracking wells threaten the basic necessities of life: our food, water and air.
Across the U.S., millions of women and families are already at risk for exposure to these chemicals and the health harms that come with them. Tens of thousands of fracking wells have been drilled since 2000—placing more than 15 million people within a mile of a fracking well. And that number will only continue to grow steadily if the oil and gas industry has its way. Environment America calculates that there are 82,000 wells in 17 states that have been fracked since 2005. They further calculate that in just 14 states, 22,326 new fracking wells were drilled in 2012.
The oil and gas industry attempts to guard the specific combination of chemicals used in fracking under “trade secrets." But environmental and health activists have been working hard to research and reveal just what, exactly, industry is pumping into the Earth and, by extension, our bodies.
In just the last two years, scientists and researchers published the available science on the environmental and health impacts of fracking, exposing the more than 700 chemicals—including carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone disruptors, plastics, heavy metals and radioactive agents—that are commonly used in the process of drilling and fracking for oil and gas. Many of these chemicals are associated with breast cancer, as well as a variety of other health harms. Twenty-five percent of the chemicals used in fracking have been linked to cancer. More than a third disrupts the endocrine system. And up to 50 percent of fracking chemicals cause nervous, immune and cardiovascular system problems.
Let's consider just one of those chemicals used in the fracking process: benzene, a known carcinogen that has been linked to male breast cancer through occupational exposure. Benzene has been found in the urine of workers exposed to fracking fluid despite the fact that as early as 1948, the American Petroleum Institute's own toxicological review stated that "it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero" and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum contaminant level goal of zero for benzene in drinking water.
Many of the hazardous chemicals used in fracking are not biodegradable, which means that once pumped underground and released into the environment, fracking produces a toxic and radioactive legacy that threatens our health for years to come. There is no safe option for dealing with fracking wastewater. Fracked wells, as well as injection wells used to dispose of toxic wastewater, have already contaminated drinking water and threatened the safety of countless drinking water aquifers. In fall 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity revealed that the oil industry had illegally dumped almost three billion gallons wastewater into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation. And earlier this month the worst fracking wastewater spill in North Dakota since the boom began in the state, leaked 3 million gallons into the river.
While we may not know everything about the long-term health impacts of spills like these, we certainly know enough to take action on fracking. Last month the Governor of New York did just that, announcing a ban on fracking shortly after the release of a long-anticipated study of the health effects of fracking. The acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, presented the study at a cabinet meeting, saying there are “significant public health risks" from air pollution and water contamination associated with fracking. Dr. Zucker urged caution, saying he would not want his family to live in a community where fracking takes place: “We cannot afford to make a mistake. The potential risks are too great."
The reality is: fracking harms the climate and our bodies. We cannot separate one from the other. For women's health activists and environmental activists alike, the time to act is now. We must act together to protect the health of communities affected already and those whose health will be threatened in the future. We need to proactively protect public health before further harm occurs. Before the ban in New York, Environment America estimated there could be as many as 60,000 wells drilled! Today, thanks to the commitment, perseverance and bold action of thousands of activists, New Yorkers have faced down the powerful oil and gas industry. This year, Californians and other activists across the country are poised to do the same.
The organization that I lead, Breast Cancer Action, was founded 25 years ago by women living with—and dying from—breast cancer who wanted to end the complacency of scientists, government agencies and the general public in the face of an emerging epidemic. They cared about prevention and refused to sit idly by and watch as more and more women got sick. Today, we carry on their fearless and truth-telling legacy.
For all the women exposed to harmful chemicals because they live near a fracked well, we say: Don't frack with our health. For all the breast cancer patients who fear exposure to chemicals that affect their treatments, we say: Don't frack with our health. For all the families concerned about future generations' risk of breast cancer, we say: Don't frack with our health. And for all the women who have lived through a breast cancer diagnosis only to fear the health harms of fracking, we say: Don't frack with our health.
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