Nov 1 2013

Preventing Breast Cancer by Reducing Risk

Smart Phone App Rates Product Toxicity –

At a public event on breast cancer awareness, sponsored by the Piedmont League of Women Voters and Piedmont CONNECT on Monday, Oct. 28 at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, the audience learned the latest technique to find out what chemicals are in everyday products — from household cleaners to cosmetics —and how unsafe or safe they are for our health. A smart-phone app — “Think Dirty” — reads barcodes for more than 12,000 products, lists their ingredients and rates their toxicity on a scale of 1 to 10. Users can scan a product and immediately learn if it is “clean” or “dirty,” and if deemed “dirty,” find similar and safe alternatives.

Dr. Connie Engle, Science and Education Manager, and Nancy Buermeyer, Senior Policy Analyst, both from the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund, discussed what everyone can do to prevent exposure to known carcinogens in our lives.   “We want to take action to prevent breast cancer,” said Dr. Engle, “not just wear pink ribbons. Through legislation, advocacy and education, we want to eliminate or reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in our environment that contribute to breast cancer.”

On a “virtual tour” through a typical household, Dr. Engle pointed out the toxics in our kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms and personal care products and recommended alternative products. In the kitchen, she said bisphenol A (BPA) is found in food can linings and polycarbonates in plastic.  Her recommendations: use only glass or ceramic containers in microwaves, never plastic; eat organic and/or locally grown foods; buy cleaning products that disclose their ingredients or make your own with baking soda, castile soap and vinegar; use stainless steel or cast iron pots.

In the living room and bedroom, flame retardant chemicals known to cause cancer are being phased out, but unfortunately, she said are being replaced by products that are equally harmful. She recommended natural materials, such as wool or cotton. For personal care products, she said there is a bill in Congress to phase out the worst ingredients, but she recommended “go simple,” use the fewest ingredients possible and avoid synthetic fragrances.  She also pointed out the potential risks of radiation from medical and dental procedures and recommended asking your doctor/dentist about the need for each test they suggest.

Nancy Buermeyer, who spends much of her time in Washington, DC and recently testified before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, noted that chemicals in the U.S. are either not regulated at all or are regulated by a “hodgepodge of agencies.”   While there has been a 40 percent increase in breast cancer in a generation, she said the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act  (TSCA) has not been updated in 37 years, and 62,000 out of 84,000 chemicals are not regulated at all. There is public pressure to amend TSCA, she said, as 28 states want it amended, and large retailers, such as Walmart and Target, are taking action to list ingredients on their products and to score their safety.  Unfortunately, she said, a proposed federal law to replace TSCA, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, is worse than the existing law.

What You Can Do  

According to both speakers:

• use your buying power (try the “Think Dirty” phone app)

• engage locally to educate others, support needed legislation, and talk to decision makers

• make sure schools do not use pesticides.

Dr. Engle concluded, “Scientific studies of health impacts of chemicals can take 30 to 50 years.  So if it looks like a carcinogen or an endocrine disrupter, it probably is a carcinogen or endocrine disrupter, and you shouldn’t use it.”

For more information, visit the website.

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