Stink Pink

Susan G. Komen has really outdone itself by teaming up with Baker Hughes, one of the world's largest producers of fracking technologies. That, plus their $100,000 donation to Komen, will supposedly help stem the scourge of breast cancer -- or will it be cheap advertising for a company dedicated to a dangerous technology?
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Mainstream breast cancer organizations have been pushing "think pink" for everything imaginable, including lots of products that involve some of the same chemicals implicated in causing breast cancer. Eloquent essays and speeches by women's health leaders like Barbara Ehrenreich have been joined with the environmental health perspective of organizations like Breast Cancer Action and Breast Cancer Fund, to "think before you pink."

What does it mean "to pink?" It means corporations get to look charitable, while getting cheap advertising. It means that people buy into a commodification of the suffering of women who have had breast cancer and their families, and the fears of so many others that they may become victims. It meshes with the frequent sexualization of ads for "breast cancer awareness" with shadowy sideways nude shots of women too young to likely be breast cancer victims. It fits with a deep attempt to make the only path one of individual solutions like choosing what to eat or buy. It joins with groups who attack as unscientific those who want to study the environmental causes of breast cancer. It's why so many people concerned with environmental health talk about "breast cancer industry month."

Now Susan G. Komen (hey, they even took off "for the Cure" from their name) has really outdone itself by teaming up with Baker Hughes, one of the world's largest oilfield servicing companies and a major producer of fracking technologies. Baker Hughes is taking steel bits used to drill fracking wells, painting them pink by hand at the factory, and shipping them to drill sites in a pink-topped container containing information packets with breast health facts. That, plus their $100,000 donation to Komen, given October 26 at the Pittsburgh Steelers home game, will supposedly help stem the scourge of breast cancer -- or will it be cheap advertising for a company dedicated to a dangerous technology?

Fracking, remember, is one of the major public health threats in the U.S. today, and spreading around the world. Carcinogenic chemicals are used to split geological formations by drilling rigs spewing carcinogenic polyaromatic hydrocarbons on land that farmers and others have been pressured to lease. Drinking water turns color, smells and tastes terrible, and even ignites. Rig workers, landowners, farmworkers, residents along the pipeline are all victims, while the huge methane leaks add to climate destruction. How could a breast cancer group touch this kind of thing?

Sandra Steingraber, the eminent biologist who has done so much to alert us to the dangers of endocrine disrupting compounds, blogged on this, calling it "frack for the cure," and pointing out that endocrine disrupting compounds are used widely in fracking. Further, she notes, high levels of the known carcinogen benzene have been found in the urine of fracking workers.

Komen is notorious for its past withdrawal of support for Planned Parenthood, based on Komen's conservative politics and anti-choice stance. It was appalling then to see an organization supposedly concerned with women's health to be fighting against a group and an issue that has always been central to women's health.

The late Barbara Brenner, director of Breast Cancer Action, used to say that sharp criticism of Komen and similar groups was well deserved because "they put themselves in harm's way." Now Komen seems to have thrown itself under the bus, jumped into the volcano, crawled beneath the polluted waters of fracked-out Colorado.

Komen did the unbelievable by allying think pink with fracking. What else could Komen do to top if off during "The Search for Pink October?" It's hard to imagine, but for my imagination, try this one: if Rachel Carson was still alive, I bet that Komen would be buying full page ads in major newspapers to attack her for warning us about the endocrine disrupting chemicals wreaking havoc on wildlife and people. It's time to boot Komen out of the acceptable network of breast cancer advocates. They should receive no financial support or social legitimacy from anyone concerned with breast cancer -- there are far better groups to which we can contribute: the research group Silent Spring Institute and its sister advocacy organization Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, Breast Cancer Fund, and Breast Cancer Action.

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