EPA won’t protect Americans against breast cancer


EPA won’t protect Americans against breast cancer
© Getty

Under the Trump administration and Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency is giving less scrutiny to toxic chemicals that are making Americans sick. This is especially concerning for breast cancer, where exposure to environmental chemicals is a key risk factor for the development of disease.

A recent review of 158 human studies from the last 10 years — the most comprehensive assessment to date — found strong links to breast cancer from exposure to certain pesticides, highly fluorinated chemicals used in non-stick pan coatings, air pollution, solvents used in dry cleaning or as de-greasing agents, and industrial chemicals like dioxins.

What’s more, the risk is especially high when women are exposed to hazardous chemicals early in life, when the breast is developing and vulnerable to environmental influences.


As a research scientist focused on the influence of environmental chemicals on breast cancer, it is appalling to watch the agency’s leadership toss aside solid science and weaken chemical safety rules in order to protect industry and its bottom line.

Women who grew up in the 1960s might remember chasing fogger trucks spraying pesticides like DDT. Little did they know that if they had high exposure to DDT, they would have five times the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Sadly, they also didn’t know that having higher DDT levels while pregnant meant their daughters would have nearly four times the risk of breast cancer later in their lives.

I wonder if today’s children, when they look back on their childhood and remember the smell of freshly-cleaned carpets in their home, will they think about the highly fluorinated chemicals that were used in the process? Will today’s moms think about the toxic flame retardant chemicals in the nursing pillows they fed their babies on?

When an explosion at a chemical plant in Seveso, Italy happened in 1976, the women living near the explosion entered a study to see what impact this would have on their health. Eleven to 20 years later, the women closest to the explosion were more likely to have breast cancer. What will happen to the people living near the Arkema chemical plant, who were there when it exploded in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?

With more than 80,000 chemicals on the market, we have to do a better job predicting which ones we should avoid to avoid another DDT situation. The question is, will our government act to protect public health, or turn a blind eye?

Industry claims regulations are unnecessary and limit economic growth. But impairments to the brain, the reproductive system and development — not to mention increased rates of cancer — also limit economic growth, reduce productivity and result in enormous associated medical costs.

Five of the first 10 chemicals the EPA has prioritized for review under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) cause breast tumors in animal studies. Unfortunately, the chemical industry’s rewrite of TSCA rules — a charge led by Nancy Beck, formerly of the American Chemistry Council — allows the agency to underestimate exposures, putting women and girls at risk.

The EPA has the knowledge and tools to better regulate toxic chemicals, and to prevent future breast cancers, and other diseases. The decision to ignore science will come with a huge price and real human costs.

Kathryn Rodgers, MPH, is a staff scientist at Silent Spring Institute, where she researches exposure to chemicals in everyday products that are linked with breast cancer.

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