American Public Health Association calls on Surgeon General to protect women workers from chemicals linked to breast cancer


In a new policy statement, the American Public Health Association (APHA) is calling on the U.S. Surgeon General to take steps to protect women workers who are exposed to toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer on the job.

The APHA explains that environmental chemicals in workplaces play a significant role in breast cancer causation, and the mounting scientific evidence on occupation and breast cancer requires immediate action:

  • A 2012 case-controlled study showed particularly high rates of breast cancer in premenopausal women employed in automotive plastics and food canning work. Other sectors associated with elevated risks among women overall included agriculture, bars/gambling, and metalworking.
  • A review focusing on women workers in the plastic industry found that women are exposed to mammary carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals on the job, and that many work environments are heavily contaminated with dust and fumes.
  • Studies in France and China found that breast cancer risk is almost double among female plastics and rubber industry workers.

Numerous global and federal government entities have also sounded the alarm for action on this issue. The 2009 President’s Cancer Panel Report “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk” called for a thorough new assessment of workplace chemical and other exposures. The International Agency for Research on Cancer found a hazard associated with night work and breast cancer. The Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC), which Breast Cancer Fund President and CEO Jeanne Rizzo co-chaired, identified “environmental disparities” that placed some underserved populations , including people in specific occupations, at increased risk of the disease. The IBCERCC report concluded that preventing environmental exposures is the most promising path to decrease incidence of the disease, and called for a national breast cancer prevention strategy.

APHA’s statement cites the Breast Cancer Fund’s work on occupation several times. It mentions our nine-session educational series about occupation and breast cancer, which brought scientists, advocates, workers and first responders together to discuss this issue in depth. It also cites our role in the Women Firefighters Biomonitoring Collaborative, which is monitoring women fire fighters in the San Francisco Bay Area to learn more about whether they are exposed to chemicals that have been linked to breast tumors.

Founded in 1872, the APHA is the oldest organization of public health professionals in the world and it boasts more than 30,000 members. In 2014, APHA released statements on HIV-AIDS, Ebola and e-cigarettes, among other issues.

By addressing chemicals women are exposed to on the job, and implementing policies that protect women’s health, the APHA argues, we can make major strides toward primary prevention of the disease.

The Breast Cancer Fund has long called for industry and government leaders to take decisive steps to protect women workers and overhaul our broken chemicals management system.Workers have a right to go to their jobs without risking their health through toxic chemical exposures, and if pregnant, without the fear that they’re harming the health of their babies. When we ensure that women workers are protected from toxic chemicals on the job, it also reduces the toxic chemicals used to make products, spewed into waterways and polluted in the air we breathe.

No one should have to face a cancer diagnosis because of the work they do. We urgently need to enforce existing laws and overhaul our broken chemicals policy system so that workers and all of us are protected.


3 thoughts on “American Public Health Association calls on Surgeon General to protect women workers from chemicals linked to breast cancer

  1. First I want to commend the Breast Cancer Fund for this excellent blog as well as your ongoing efforts to address occupational exposures and breast cancer risk. The elevated and preventable cancer burden carried by so many women due to their working conditions calls out for attention. Unfortunately, the current economic and political system ignores their work environment while protecting financial interests that are responsible for their suffering.

    On International Women’s Day it is worth noting how often the interests of labour and the demands of feminists were joined in a common cause for social justice and equality.

    Could the Breast Cancer Fund raise with the Firefighters and other unions the idea of using the APHA statement on breast cancer and work to formulate resolutions within their own unions? It is essential that unions begin to recognize and address this occupational health issue. Passing such resolutions is one more step on this very long and arduous road to a world without breast cancer.

    Thanks again

  2. Hello,
    My name is Amy Derr. I’m a Dental Hygienist in Northern California. With working in a Dental Office, I am exposed to different harmful exposures. The two that I am aware of that do not have any governing agencies to regulate exposures, are Nitrous Oxide and Radiation.
    With Nitrous Oxide, sure there is a mandated ‘Scavenger’ that is supposed to remove Nitrous Oxide Pollutants through the Evacuation Hoses to evaporate into the outside air. Meanwhile, as the patient breathes and talks, the staff is being exposed. Tubing gets old and leaks occur. No one regulates this. I temped in one office that uses Nitrous Oxide for about 75% of Hygiene Patients just getting a ‘Prophy,’ (Cleaning). If Nitrous Oxide can cause Spontaneous Abortions and other Endocrine Disorders, why is there not more emphasis on its use and safety?
    Also, in regards to Radiation. Walls are supposed to be a certain thickness, which I know in my office there is no way it is up to standard. I even tested taking radiographs, taping a metal paperclip to a radiograph and seeing if the image shows up upon developing the x-ray at the same location where I take the X-Ray, and it was positive after a few exposures. Now with Digital X-Rays, I don’t know how to go about testing if I am safe from radiation exposure. They make X-Ray Monitoring badges. Why not make it mandatory for offices to make staff wear these badges. Employers need to be accountable to some Regulatory Agency if the staff is being unnecessarily exposed?
    Thank you for Caring about Women and their health! 🙂

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