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Think breast cancer and the global addiction to fossil fuels are two separate crises? Think again.
Fossil fuels take many forms, including oil, gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and coal. Many chemicals in our air, water, food, and everyday items come from extracting, processing, and burning fossil fuels. The use of fossil fuels not only contributes to climate change, it may also increase our risk of developing breast cancer. We can be exposed to these harmful chemicals where we live, work, learn, and play from sources as varied as vehicle exhaust, industrial operations, pesticides, plastics, and many others.
Fossil fuels’ connection to breast cancer
Every year in the U.S., more than a quarter of a million people are diagnosed with breast cancer—a number that continues to rise. Many of these people have no family history of the disease, which raises the question “What causes breast cancer?” Increasingly, researchers are finding environmental links to the disease, including exposures to fossil fuel-based chemicals.
How are we exposed?
Exposures can come from each step in the fossil fuel continuum, all leading to a greater body burden that increases breast cancer risk:
- Extraction: There are many ways to extract fossil fuels, including fracking, oil drilling (on land and offshore) and coal mining. Each of these expose people to a range of toxic chemicals. For example, chemicals that are linked to breast cancer are used in the fracking process.
- Processing and manufacturing: Once extracted, fossil fuels must be converted to usable forms. This may include refining crude oil into gasoline for your car or manufacturing pesticides and consumer products. Each of these processes exposes people to harmful chemicals, especially people who live near and work in the factories.
- Products and by-products: Ultimately, the many products created from fossil fuels have the potential to expose us to harmful chemicals. We can ingest hormone disrupting chemicals from plastic bottles or food wrap, absorb harmful chemicals from products used on our skin, inhale pollutants from vehicle exhaust, or drink water contaminated with pesticides. All these exposures increase people’s toxic body burden and may increase the risk of breast cancer.
What are some chemical exposures from fossil fuels that may increase breast cancer risk?
- Benzene is a known carcinogen and may increase breast cancer risk.
- Common exposure sources include gasoline stored for use in lawn mowers, and cars in basements or garages attached to a house; auto and truck exhaust; and solvents used in the workplace. Benzene released during fossil fuel extraction exposes workers and neighboring communities.
- Polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs) are a class of chemicals that are released when wood, coal, crude oil, gasoline and diesel are burned. Some of these PAHs, especially from diesel combustion, increase breast cancer risk.
- Common exposure sources include breathing air contaminated with motor vehicle exhaust, fumes arising from asphalt roads, industrial pollution, and. occupational exposures.
- Dioxins are highly toxic persistent environmental pollutants that may increase breast cancer risk.
- Common exposure sources include combustion of fossil fuels and waste incineration, metal smelting and refining, chemical manufacturing, and eating food, especially animal products, that have been contaminated.
- Pesticides & Herbicides: some pest and weed control chemicals manufactured from fossil fuels have been linked to hormone disruption and potentially increase risk for breast cancer.
- Common exposure sources include home and yard pest control, occupational settings such as landscaping and agriculture, working or living in proximity to agricultural fields (including pesticide drift and water contaminated with pesticides), and eating food contaminated with pesticides.
Communities of Color Hit First & Worst by the Fossil Fuel Economy
Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are systematically harmed by fossil fuel industry operations. This harm arises from historic and ongoing planning, zoning, and lending practices that lead to communities of color being disproportionately exposed to high levels of air, water, and soil pollution.
A transition from fossil fuel dependence to renewable energy and non-toxic products can create economic opportunity. People of color must have control over policies that affect how solutions are developed and must benefit from the economic opportunities generated by the transition to healthier, safer alternatives.
What is Breast Cancer Action doing about the link between fossil fuels and breast cancer?
To end the breast cancer epidemic, we must turn off the tap on the fossil fuel economy. Cancer diagnoses continue to increase, yet only around 15 percent of all breast cancers are linked to family history. It’s time to end exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, hormone disruptors, and other chemicals of concern throughout the fossil fuel continuum.
BCAction is working to eliminate harmful exposures from fossil fuels by disrupting the fossil fuel continuum. We are proud members of the California-based Last Chance Alliance, a coalition working to end fossil fuel projects, including fracking, in California.
We encourage members to join us in the following actions and learn more here:
Please contact Breast Cancer Action at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to request references.