Ed Felien : Komen and Cancer: Cause and Effect?

These women are protesting the Komen Foundation’s defunding of Planned Parenthod — later retracted — at headquarters in Dallas,  February 7, 2012. But there may be other reasons to say “Shame on Komen!” Photo by Rex C. Curry / AP. Image from PBS.

Komen Foundation:
Is the ‘Race for the Cure’
actually a ‘Race to Obscure?

Even more troubling than the revelation of their right-wing anti-choice agenda was the realization among many critics that principal sponsors of the Race for the Cure produce or use products that actually cause cancer.

By Ed Felien | The Rag Blog | April 18, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — Last year the Komen Foundation, the chief sponsor of Race for the Cure, pulled $700,000 in funding from Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening and service grants as part of the right-wing attempts to defund and destroy Planned Parenthood. A storm of protest forced them to retract their move and apologize to Planned Parenthood, but damage to their brand may have already been done.

But, even more troubling than the revelation of their right-wing anti-choice agenda was the realization among many critics that principal sponsors of the Race for the Cure produce or use products that actually cause cancer. A race for the cure might be a way to run away from an honest disclosure of the causes of cancer. A Race for the Cure might just be a Race to Obscure.

The national Komen Foundation Partners include American Airlines, BMW, and Ford Motor Company. In an article, “Relationship Between Genetic Damage from PAH in Breast Tissue and Breast Cancer,” F. Perera and others in Carcinogenesis, July 2000, say Polcyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are widespread environmental contaminants that are generated by gasoline and oil combustion and also are found in cigarette smoke and broiled meat. In lab experiments, PAH cause mammary cancer in animals.

Another Komen Foundation Partner is OxyChem. They manufacture bonding resins, chlorine, polyuerethane chain extenders, and solvents. The American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 1991 noted that breast cancer mortality was 1.64 times higher among pharmaceutical workers and 1.51 times higher among electrical equipment manufacturing workers who are often exposed to high levels of solvents.

Last year one of the local platinum sponsors was C. H. Robinson, a freight forwarder that used mostly diesel powered 16-wheelers to transport 11.5 million shipments. But diesel fumes cause lung cancer, the World Health Organization declared in June of 2012, and experts said they are more carcinogenic than secondhand cigarette smoke. “There is a clear association, a causal role, of diesel engine exhaust, particularly with lung cancer in humans,” according to Dr Kurt Straif.

Over 10 years ago, the Minneapolis Women’s Cancer Resource Center sponsored “The Toxic Industry Tour — Stop Cancer Where it Starts.” Their first stop was the downtown garbage burner because of its dioxin emissions. From their report:

The Hennepin County Incinerator located in downtown Minneapolis emits dioxin, which causes cancer. Dioxin is a by-product of burning chlorine-based products such as #3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic in children’s toys, bottles, and paper and wood products. Plastic wraps such as Saran Wrap are particularly toxic.

Dioxin is a known carcinogen as classified by the U. S. EPA. Dioxin is the most harmful substance known to humankind. The U. S. EPA Dioxin Reassessment Report issued after years of study found dioxin to be 10 times more harmful to human health than originally reported.

Municipal incinerators like HERC are the major air polluters emitting dioxin, followed by hospital incinerators. The pulp and paper making industry is another major polluter of the air and rivers and ultimately fish and humans.

The most common form of dioxin is a byproduct of the bleach used to make paper white. When that paper is burned, dioxin is released. Winona LaDuke wrote in The Circle, in August 2001, “With the help of new sophisticated tracking mechanisms, it is found that the residue of our own garbage is what is in the breast milk of Alaskan women.” Of the top 10 sources of dioxin in the breast milk of Inuit women in a remote Canadian village, two came from Minnesota.

In their pamphlet “Dioxin Phase-out — Why we can’t wait,” the Women’s Cancer Resource Center says,

Most Americans get 280 times the EPA’s “safe” amount of dioxin daily. We’re exposed to 95% of the dioxin through meat and dairy products. That’s because airborne dioxin coming from incinerators or factories can travel 1,000 miles, settling onto plants, soil and water. Grazing animals eat the plants and store the dioxin in their fats and internal organs. As we eat full-fat milk, cheese, or fatty meats or fish, we take in dioxin.

Hennepin County Environmental Services says it does the following with:

  • Poison, such as pesticides, insecticides, etc.  (“incinerate them at very high temperatures”)
  • Corrosive products (acids and bases), such as lime remover, oven cleaner, etc.(“these wastes are incinerated”)
  • Flammable solids, such as adhesives, driveway sealer, roofing tars, etc. (“high temperature incineration”)
  • Oxidizers, such as bleach, hardeners, etc. (“high temperature incineration”)

Incineration doesn’t get rid of the problem, it just puts it into the air.

The Toxic Industry Tour made two other stops.

They stopped at the corporate offices of TruGreen-Chemlawn because the company uses dicamba, a known carcinogen, the organochlorine 2,4-D (the same compound as Agent Orange sold as Trimec). The National Cancer Institute found children are 6.5 times more likely to develop leukemia if their parents used pesticides.

They stopped at Koch Refinery because they emit benzene. Benzene is the same carcinogen in cigarettes. The company has since seen fit to comply with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regulations and stop their emissions.

Carol Johnson, the environmental program coordinator at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, said in 2006, “In 1940 1 in 20 women had breast cancer; in 1972 it was 1 in 14; today it is 1 in 8. Are we willing to accept 1 in 4? Because that’s where we’re headed.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, speaking about the Komen Foundation and Race for the Cure in a speech at the 2002 Breast Cancer Action Town Meeting, said: “While they want a cure — we ALL do — they say almost nothing about the need to find the CAUSE of breast cancer, which is very likely environmental. This omission makes sense: Breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate charities if its complexion changed from pink to green.”

[Ed Felien is publisher and editor of Southside Pride, a South Minneapolis monthly where this article was also published. Read more articles by Ed Felien on The Rag Blog.]

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