by Pauli Ojea, Community Organizer
BCA has been committed to reducing environmental exposures to toxins linked with breast cancer since the organization’s inception 18 years ago. At that time, very little attention was given to the connection between the environment and breast cancer. Through the years, as a result of BCA’s efforts as well as those of our allies, the environment’s relationship to breast cancer and other diseases has received more attention, both in the research lab and among the general public. Although more research and public awareness about environmental links to breast cancer are needed, we have seen some success thus far.
Success has not followed as quickly in the responses of corporations and government to the growing scientific evidence regarding environmental exposures. Gaping holes remain in public policies that still allow corporations to use and manufacture suspect chemicals that put people in harm’s way. We continue to see cancer-causing substances in our everyday products, pollution in our neighborhoods, and unsafe exposures in our workplaces. We also see injustice, with certain people (namely low-income communities and communities of color) bearing a greater burden of harm than others.
BCA seeks to change that picture by focusing on involuntary environmental exposures as one of our strategic priorities. Part of this work involves urging corporations to change their practices. We will focus our attention on companies that associate themselves with breast cancer (by putting a pink ribbon on their product to raise money) but whose products contain ingredients linked to the disease. BCA calls these companies “pinkwashers.” Our Think Before You Pink campaign has urged numerous pinkwashers to clean up their act, including calling on cosmetics and car companies to make cleaner products in order to really make a difference in breast cancer. We believe that if a company purports to care about breast cancer, it should be doing as much as possible to ensure that its products are not contributing to the epidemic.
We also understand that when one company makes a change for the better, a ripple effect occurs in the market, with more companies following suit, resulting in more healthy choices for consumers. Our Think Before You Pink campaign will continue to push pinkwashers to make the kinds of changes that will truly make a difference in breast cancer—stopping the disease where it starts.
As BCA works to change corporate practices, we will also encourage our governments to enact the necessary policies that will help keep toxic chemicals out of the environment and out of our bodies. BCA is currently involved in the growing movement for chemical policy reform in California and beyond. We want to see public policies that will more adequately regulate harmful or untested chemicals. Broad policy changes such as these will mean that all individuals will be less exposed to toxins. So, whether you are a worker who is exposed to a questionable chemical or a consumer who buys a household product that contains it, this kind of change in chemical policy will help protect you.
As with so much of BCA’s work, our attention on the issue of environmental health and justice will focus on the systemic changes necessary to keep people safe. While there are some opportunities for people to make healthier choices for themselves, our work will focus on the exposures that people can’t control on their own. For example, an individual can make the choice to exercise outdoors for good health, but policy decisions affect whether the air that person breathes is healthful. BCA will advocate for policies that will ensure that the air (and water, land, and food) is clean and good for our health.
Our vision is a world in which no consumer has to wonder whether the product she or he is buying contains dangerous chemicals, no mother has to fear that her children’s toys are toxic, and no worker is getting sick because of her or his job. It’s a world in which all people are equally protected from exposure to harmful substances, thus leading to fewer cancer cases down the road. Attaining such a world will not be possible without the collective action of many people. At BCA, we will work to ensure that you, our members, are fully informed about opportunities to use your voice to create a safer world.