Breast Cancer, Plastics, and Prevention

The Breast Cancer Fund is a not-for-profit education and advocacy organization that identifies the environmental and other preventable causes of breast cancer and also advocates for their elimination.

In the linked video on breast cancer and plastic pollution, Breast Cancer Fund’s President and CEO, Jeannie Rizzo, shares what is known about some very common chemicals in plastics, such as those in the lining of metal food cans, plastic food containers (including some baby bottles and sippy cups), microwave ovenware, and eating utensils. Some of these chemicals damage cellular DNA and have been found to reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy agents. Bisphenol A (BPA) has been linked a number of negative health effects, including birth defects, infertility in men, early puberty in girls, diabetes, obesity, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

Rizzo reminds us that when plastics proliferated after World War II, no one asked what the effects of these chemicals might be. She argues that, although society quickly grew accustomed to tupperware parties, plastic baby bottles, canned food, and disposables as a measure of modern living, the chemicals found in these items were (and are) responsible for contaminating the ecosystems of our own bodies. We didn’t know this then. In fact, we didnt even ask what the real price of plastic might be.

We have these answers now. We know that BPA breaks down and leaches into foods (especially fatty foods), that 93% of Americans have BPA in their bodies, and that BPA interferes with reproductive and hormonal systems. We also know that chemicals called phthalates (found in PVC and #3 plastics) act as weak estrogens and are a risk factor for later-life breast cancer, that the dioxin formed in the manufacturing of PVC has been classified as a known human carcinogen, that those who manufacture PVC have higher rates of breast cancer mortality, and that chemicals (i.e., styrene) that leach from styrofoam products (#6 plastics) are also known human carcinogens.

Yet while we hope for miraculous cures for cancer, we have yet to act on the knowledge we have. Rizzo states clearly that, alhough our bodies are continuously polluted with chemicals like BPA, society as a whole is not refusing them. Why are these chemicals are still here? Why are the 80 thousand synthetic chemicals floating around in everyday household items mostly unregulated? These are heavy questions for a society hooked on plastics. But if we pay the price of plastic every day with hormone disruption and illness, they are questions worth asking especially if we can reduce these exposures, and in turn, reduce risk.

In a final statement, Jeanne Rizzo urges all of us to use a principle of precaution to ground our decision-making, to invest in innovation, to take advantage of green chemistry, to look to nature to design solutions to technological problems, and to harness that collective realization that saving our environment is inextricably linked to protecting future generations from cancer. In short, she urges us to act–thoughtfully, with intention, and with evidence.

In addition to watching BCF’s eye-opening video, more information on the scientific evidence linking exposures to chemicals such as BPA to breast cancer risk can be found here and also in Breast Cancer Fund’s comprehensive report State of the Evidence. It is time for change.

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7 comments to Breast Cancer, Plastics, and Prevention

  • No authoritative or regulatory body anywhere in the world classifies styrene to be a known cause of human cancer. Moreover, a study conducted by a “blue ribbon” panel of epidemiologists and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (November 2009) reports: “The evidence of human carcinogenicity of styrene is inconsistent and weak. On the basis of the available evidence, one cannot conclude that there is a causal relationship between styrene and any type of human cancer.”

    Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC ( is a trade association representing interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene.

  • It is understandable that the industry would not want styrene to be linked to cancer. However, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified styrene as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1987 (Group 2B). Styrene oxide, a reactive metabolite of styrene, shows positive carcinogenic results in oral exposure and has been detected in workers exposed to styrene. In 1995, the IARC classified styrene oxide a probable human carcinogen (Group 2A). Importantly, benzene (which the EPA unequivocally classifies as a human carcinogen) is used used in the manufacturing of styrene, and Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) (found to disrupt the endocrine system) is often added to styrene products as a flame retardant. When styrene products are manufactured, heated, or burned they release these chemicals. Quite worrisome.

    Here is some additional information from Cornell University’s Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors.


    BPA and styrenated resins are used to coat pipes for all types of infrastructure repair. The BPA resins are used for potable water lines and when smell is an issue. The curing agents for the BPA resins are not studied when incomplete cure is an issue for underground systems (See: Trenchless or Insituform). Styrenated thermoset polyesters and vinyl esters resins contain 38-40% styrene (by weight) and are specified in the EPA approved contracts without monitoring complete curing or leaching into the waterways. After a study by the Virginia DOT on storm drain lines completed with Cured-In-Place Pipe (CIPP, leaching of styrene was up to 85 days. Neighborhood evacuations, business evacuations and fish kills have been a result of styrene releases from CIPP operations. These projects are funded by the EPA and State Revolving Funds and Clean Water Act Funding. Monitoring and controlls are essential in any FRP process except those that are government funded. The major player in this type of pipe rehabilitation is Insituform Technologies that markets “STYRENE is NON-HAZARDOUS” and people are over reactive when t comes to smelling it in their houses. The municipalities that have large multi-million dollar contracts are more of a pollutor than most corporations. Demand testing and monitoring of chemical usage and spills. Insituform believes 100 Ppm is not harmful to households and the industry (NASTT) believes 25 Ppm is OK to release into our streams. the general public is not ammune to the same concentrations that are set by OSHA. If the toxics cause harm in any quantity, the manufacturer is at fault. (see: Trenchless styrene). The ACMA is lobbying for the CIPP industry to continue their multi-billion dollar processes without limitations.


    Pricilla, I trust Johns Hopkins University study over SIRC biased opinions and objectives. After all, most menbers on the SIRC board are profiting from styrene related products:
    From the American Journal of Epidemiology, finally in any chemical balacing equation, the human body conversions are as different to each individual and age group. SIRC, take off the blind-folds. The Harvard study is a good example of a study getting too close to what the SIRC doesn’t want to hear, therefore the funding was cut-off?

  • Just A Thought

    Priscilla, May I call you Priss, Why should anybody in this world suffer from what the chemical industry has to emit? If styrene in cigarette smoke is hazardous, what makes styrene in building materials, piping leachates or auto parts different? There are technologies to significantly reduce the residual VOC’s from manufactured plastic materials at an ecconomicaly feasible price to any manufacturer. I agree Styrene is the best monomer for thermoset plastics polymerization but controls must be set to react ALL the resisidual styrene and time for FULL cure. The problem is with the ACMA, SIRC and Other organization boards containing board members that are bias towards Styrene, Benzene and Toluene. Some of the published comments in Pipe relining favoring the use of styrene at high levels are inconceivable to any moral engineering effort. The mitigation efforts are worth more than the battle efforts ($$$) the VOC supporters are taking after what this country has seen this past year. Some companies (Insituform [INSU],Layne Christensen [Layn], Veolia Environmental [VE] {symbol for stock exchange]) and other non-public corps,are low bidders for pipe relining and $0.01 per foot will be the difference of polluting your water or evacuating your house or business. These are tax dollars being paid (by EPA,ARRA, Clean Water Funds) to emit millions of pounds of styrene into OUR water ways and the air WE breath. Point: no need for it if there were controls in place. If you smell styrene or any Volitile Organic Carbon (Benzene, Toluene….) at high concentrations that are DISSRUPTIVE to YOUR way of life, report it!! Don’t let the contractor doing the work take sampling…THEY are not liscensed, call a EH&S (Engineering, Health & Sciences) profesional, call the hazardous response team, see a doctor immediately. It is up to THE PEOPLE and not the local authorities as put to me by Mayors, Senators and EPA Administrators. Controls are the answer, not elimination! We need plastic…its our way of life for now. Just a Thought.

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).

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