Breast cancer has historically been known as a disease that only impacts "older" women. But the truth is that breast cancer is a complex disease that impacts people of all ages with varying outcomes for different communities. For example, one aggressive breast cancer subtype is more common in women younger than 40 years old, and more common in Black women.

Moreover, seventy percent of people with breast cancer have none of the known risk factors, such as late menopause, childbearing late in life, and family history of cancer. These risk factors are present in only 30 percent of breast cancer cases and there is growing scientific evidence that environmental exposures increase breast cancer risk.

As breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in the U.S., breast cancer is an urgent health crisis, and to address and end the epidemic, young people need to get involved and address environmental exposures and the root causes of the disease.

Because Health spoke with Breast Cancer Action (BCAction), a nonprofit committed to stopping breast cancer before it starts, about their work in reducing our involuntary exposures to toxics in the environment that are linked with breast cancer, and about how doing so is not only an act of environmental justice, but an act of racial justice as well.


Because Health: Can you tell me about Breast Cancer Action and what unique role you play in preventing breast cancer.

Tibby Reas Hinderlie, BCAction: While the mainstream breast cancer movement remains squarely focused on pink ribbons, "awareness" campaigns, and mammography screening, it fails to address the systemic and environmental issues at the heart of this epidemic.

BCAction is an activist, education, and advocacy organization, and we understand that systemic interventions are necessary in order to address the root causes of the disease and ensure that fewer people develop breast cancer, fewer people die from breast cancer, and no community bears a disproportionate burden from this disease. Our three programmatic priorities address the lack of transparency in pink ribbon marketing culture; issues of breast cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment; and primary prevention by exposing the root causes of breast cancer in our environmental policies.

Because Health: How do environmental exposures impact breast cancer risk?

BCAction: There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that toxic chemicals may increase our risk of developing the disease. In 2010, the President's Cancer Panel reported that "the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated [and] . . . the American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures."

There are over 85,000 synthetic chemicals on the market today. We are exposed to preservatives in our lipstick, flame retardants in our sofas, plasticizers in our water bottles, and pesticides on our fruits and vegetables, to name a few sources.

At BCAction we advocate for the precautionary principle of public health. These are guidelines for environmental decision making that call for us to determine safety based on the weight of the available evidence, because waiting for "absolute proof" is killing us. In the absence of scientific consensus, we need to adopt the highest standards, and take proactive steps to reduce our exposures to these toxins linked to increased breast cancer risk.

Because Health: How can we reduce our exposure to these environmental risks? What policies do we need to push for to ensure fewer people develop breast cancer in the future?

BCAction: We need systemic change if we are going to reduce our risk of environmental exposures, instead of relying on individual acts of risk reduction. Campaigns we've led that reflect this theory of change include our 2020 Think Before You Pink campaign, in which we demanded the Environmental Protection Agency stop environmental health rollbacks. We've also called for actions to dismantle the fossil fuel continuum, to include breaking free from plastics pollution, and we provide many educational and advocacy opportunities to phase out fossil fuel dependence.

We know that environmental justice is inextricable from health justice, and only large-scale systemic changes can address the root causes of this disease.

Because Health: You mentioned justice as part of your breast cancer work. How is breast cancer a social justice issue?

BCAction: Just as environmental factors have been largely ignored as possible risk factors for breast cancer, so have the complex issues of social inequities – political, economic and racial injustices. Disparities in breast cancer incidence, mortality, and survival are due to unequal burdens in who faces the forces of systemic oppression, institutionalized racism, and environmental injustices. That is, the extent and type of toxics we're exposed to often depends on where we live and work.

In our fact sheet Why We Must Stop Fossil Fuels, we show how chemicals like benzene, dioxins, polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, and pesticides and herbicides are each produced along the fossil fuel continuum, and linked to increased breast cancer risk, and how Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are disproportionately exposed to fossil fuel operations that produce these chemicals due to environmental racism.

Put simply – BIPOC communities bear the brunt of environmental exposures and are hit first and worst by chemical exposures like those produced by the fossil fuel continuum. These communities are therefore at increased risk for breast cancer due to environmental exposures. We know that racial bias in industrial zoning has led to communities of color being burdened with higher everyday exposures to pollution from fossil-fuel based industries, and that decades of racist urban planning practices have led to a greater concentration of highways, ports, and trainlines in communities of color.

Increased breast cancer risk may also be linked to the stress of racism and adverse childhood experiences, including living in segregated neighborhoods. In BCAction's recent podcast episode Stress, Racism, and the Breast Cancer Connection, former Executive Director Karuna Jaggar and Dr. Lauren Ellman discuss how chronic stress, including the toll of systemic racism, explains some of the health impacts like increased breast cancer risk—even decades later.

BCAction is currently the community partner in an ongoing study, Linking Neighborhood and Individual Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to Breast Cancer. This study seeks answers to questions like: can where you live affect your breast cancer risk? If so, how? Is there something about living in a racially segregated neighborhood that contributes to more aggressive forms of breast cancer?

Because Health: What would you like young people to know about breast cancer?

BCAction: There is nothing inevitable about breast cancer. Breast Cancer Action's badass, take-no-prisoners, truth-telling, unapologetic, passionate and intersectional methodology to addressing and ending this devastating disease draws on health justice, environmental justice, and racial justice. And we believe that together we can build a world where our lives and communities are not threatened by breast cancer, but it will take our collective action.

To join us, sign up for our mailing list or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Life

What are Period Care Products Made Of?

What you need to know about some concerning ingredients

Because Health: Although being on your period can be a pain (sometimes literally- thanks cramps...), we know period products have got us covered. Even during tricky situations like swimming, athletics, or even wearing white pants, period products like pads, tampons, and menstrual cups are there for us. While they can be a life saver during our period, there's still so much we don't know about the ingredients that are used in these products, or how these exposures might impact our health. There's way too much mystery surrounding a product that we use daily, for hours at a time, that come into contact with some of the most absorbent and sensitive parts of the body, which is why Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE) decided to look at this topic further. Keep reading to hear from WVE about what's in period care products, what regulations are needed, and some safer options that are available now.

What's In Period Care Products?

Most pads and tampons are much more than a simple piece of cotton. Generally, products are made to be super absorbant, comfortable, easy to use, and can have other properties like "odor-absorbing" or some products even provide a scent.

Yet there is still so much we don't know about the ingredients that are used in these products, or how these exposures might impact our health. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers menstrual products "medical devices" so manufacturers of these products are not required to disclose their ingredients.

Independent, testing from various organizations, media sources and governing bodies from around the world has found numerous chemicals of concern in these products, particularly in chemical additives such as fragrances, lubricants, lotions, odor-absorbing compounds and even antibacterial compounds that are often added to menstrual products by manufacturers. Chemicals linked to allergies, irritation, cancer, endocrine disruption and birth defects have all been found hiding in period care products. In fact, as recently as 2020, phthalates (chemicals widely flagged as harmful) were found in every single sample (of the total 43 pads, panty liners and tampons tested) that were tested!

Once you realize how many questionable chemicals are in so many period products, It's not surprising to learn that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received hundreds of adverse health reports regarding tampons and pads. They describe genital irritation, rashes, chemical burns, allergic reactions (including anaphylactic shock), toxic shock syndrome and other symptoms as a result of exposure to a menstrual pad, pantyliner or tampon.

What Are the Health Impacts of Chemicals in Period Care Products

These reports and tests have raised important questions about the potential health impacts of these exposures. While a few studies have attempted to assess and measure potential risks of these products, all have indicated that there is more work to be done to better understand the impacts these products may have. What's more, the route of exposure to chemicals from menstrual products is both unique and poorly understood. Chemicals absorbed through the vagina are easily and effectively distributed throughout the body, without being metabolized. In order to better understand the health impacts of chemical exposures from menstrual products — at the very least — we need to know what is in them.

People deserve to know what's in the products they are using! This information is vital to make informed decisions about our health, and what we're putting on and in our bodies. We have come to expect disclosure of ingredients in foods and cosmetics because of the direct interaction of these products with our bodies. We should expect no less from menstrual products.

New Regulations for Menstrual Care

Because of public demand, many companies that make period products have started voluntarily disclosing some ingredients. In addition, many new companies have built ingredient disclosure into their policies and practices, understanding the importance of transparency and safety. However, voluntary disclosure remains problematic as it is inconsistent, is not universal, and these products are not always available or accessible to everyone.

New Right to Know Regulations

Important changes toward transparency are already in the works! In 2019, New York became the first state in the nation to require manufacturers of period care products to disclose ingredients. This new law will go into effect October 2021 require any menstrual products sold in the state to contain a "plain and conspicuous" list of all ingredients, in order of predominance. This must be printed on, or affixed to, the package. There's no doubt that this will have national impact, as it will open up new information about these products than ever before.

On the federal level, Congresswoman Grace Meng, is reintroducing her bill, the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, which will require disclosure of ingredients in menstrual products, including tampons, pads, menstrual cups and period underwear — providing vital ingredient information for people across the nation.

Safer Period Products Available Right Now

Even though there's a lot of work to be done related to the chemicals found in period products, we're already starting to see positive changes. An increasing amount of non-toxic options available for period products and ways to report negative health impacts means individuals can immediately take to protect their health.

- Choose unscented products where available, especially in tampons and pads.

- Choose chlorine-free bleach or unbleached tampons and pads.

- Organic products are also a good option as they are typically free (or nearly free) of fragrances and pesticides, and often have fewer additives, dyes or bleaches.

- If you are having allergic symptoms, switch brands, and then tell the company why you did by calling the 800 number on the label.

- Report any symptoms possibly resulting from these products to the FDA by calling 1-800-332-1088 or filling out a consumer report form.

- Look for period underwear that is made out of 100% cotton and doesn't use silver

- To learn more about these issues visit womensvoices.org

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Life

Look for the Climate Neutral Certified Label

Fight climate change with your purchasing choices

This Earth Day, conscientious consumers will certainly notice a plethora of different certification labels related to the environmental, social, and ethical practices of the brands producing everything you buy. In 2019, we launched Climate Neutral Certified–a new label that signifies brands who have certified their net-zero carbon emissions. This spring we're seeing more adoption of Climate Neutral practices than ever before. Over 230 brands, including many household names, have now achieved the label "Climate Neutral Certified." Hundreds of others will join them in the coming months.

So what is Climate Neutral Certification, and what does it mean for you?

Climate Neutral is a nonprofit organization founded in 2019 with the mission to decrease global carbon emissions by getting brands to offset and reduce all of their carbon emissions, and giving consumers a trusted climate label. Together, these brands and consumers are working together to drive the world toward zero net emissions, which science says we need to achieve by 2050 in order to maintain a livable climate.

Climate Neutral Certified brands have offset over 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions–that's like taking over 150,000 cars off the road for a year. In addition to offsetting their carbon footprint, those brands have made plans to reduce their emissions through actions like transitioning their factories to clean energy.

How does Climate Neutral Certification Work?

To earn the Climate Neutral Certified label, brands must annually measure, offset and reduce their total carbon emissions from making products or services and providing them to customers. These emissions are caused by heating offices, manufacturing products, shipping parts, and countless other activities. We develop tools and standards to help companies measure their carbon emissions quickly and credibly.

Once they have measured their carbon footprints, brands must purchase high-quality carbon credits equivalent to a year's worth of emissions. A carbon credit is a certificate generated when someone takes an action to eliminate a metric tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, such as reforestation initiatives or projects that replace fossil fuel energy with wind and solar. When carbon credits are purchased to zero-out a person or organization's emissions, it's called a carbon offset.

Carbon credits put money into real time climate change solutions, while we work to reduce our carbon emissions altogether. To this end, all Climate Neutral Certified brands must also create Reduction Action Plans to curtail their emissions over the next 12-18 months.

You can search a directory of all Climate Neutral Certified brands online, or look for the label when you buy anything from shoes to mattresses.

What brands are Climate Neutral Certified?

Climate Neutral Certified brands can be found in over a dozen industries. Whether you're shopping for products or services, you can choose Climate Neutral options. Here are a few well-known examples:

Allbirds - joined Climate Neutral in 2019

This popular shoe company is on a mission to "prove that comfort, design and sustainability aren't mutually exclusive by making premium footwear from renewable materials, designed for everyday life." Allbirds has measured 7.6 kg of carbon emissions from making and delivering each pair of its shoes, and fully offsets all their products' carbon footprints.

REI - joined Climate Neutral in 2020

As a cooperative committed to getting people to "opt outside," REI has been publishing an annual stewardship report since 2006. This year, the report includes REI's Climate Neutral certification, earned for measuring and offsetting 250,422 tonnes of CO2e. Climate Neutral is also included on REI's list of Product Impact Standards.

Reformation - joined Climate Neutral in 2020

Founded in 2009, Reformation began by selling vintage clothing and, "quickly expanded into making our own stuff, with a focus on sustainability." Not only has the company offset 28,745 tonnes of CO2, but they also track all their clothing's environmental impact through an internal tool so you can see how much CO2, water, and waste their products use.

What can you do to help?

Businesses and consumers all have a part to play in stopping climate change. Together we can have a large impact. By using your dollars and voice, we hope to transform the way businesses operate. How can you encourage businesses to make the transition and take responsibility for their carbon emissions?

  • Look for the Climate Neutral Certified label when you're shopping for things.
  • If your favorite brands are not Climate Neutral Certified, urge them to measure, offset, and reduce their emissions using the hashtag #beclimateneutral.
  • Let your friends and family know about Climate Neutral.
  • Talk to your friends and family about climate change. Your voice and choices will help the world accelerate along the path to net-zero emissions.
Food

Why Reusable Takeout Packaging is the Future

Better for the Planet, Our Health, and the Economy

As a long-time plastic and waste reduction advocate, I've had a hard time ordering take-out or delivery. It's not just the waste that bothers me when I see single-use food packaging, it's knowing that things used for a matter of minutes and then thrown away represents all kinds of threats not only to the environment, but also to our health and businesses' bottom line.

Then COVID-19 happened – and caused a dramatic increase in the consumption of single-use plastics from PPEs and food packaging. Since the pandemic began, U.S. online shopping and take-out orders have increased 78% – the highest reported increase in the world. However, oddly enough, the number of reusable and returnable cup and container options has – luckily! – been growing.

This growth in reuse systems is evident in cities across the U.S.. For example, in my hometown of San Francisco, in the last year it became possible for me to order take-out in reusable containers from several of my favorite Bay Area restaurants through Dispatch Goods, either directly from the restaurant or through Doordash. When visiting family in NYC, I can get lovely salads to go from Just Salad – and Deliver Zero is partnering with a number of restaurants in Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. And while my family in Durham N.C. are divided by the Tar Heels and Blue Devils rivalry, they all agree that ordering take-out in reusable containers from restaurants that partner with Durham Green to Go is much better than the throw-away option. And thankfully, I can now get a coffee to-go in a reusable mug in many cities, like when I visit my brother in Boston, where Usefull recently launched.

At UPSTREAM, we are tracking the growth of reuse in cities all across the country. It's possible to borrow a reusable cup or container in a variety of on deposit or lending programs. Even groceries and consumer products are being offered in returnable/refillable containers thanks to many emerging reuse companies. The concomitant growth in reusable and refillable return systems gives me hope that the throw away culture is changing.

Why Single-use Packaging is Not Good for the Environment

Since the birth of the throw-away culture in the 1960s, single-use food packaging has largely replaced reusable and refillable packaging in the U.S., and it is rapidly increasing across the globe. Taking another first place, the U.S. is also the biggest generator of packaging waste – 82.2 million metric tons (mt) in 2018- equivalent to 514 billion cars. Efforts to find "sustainable packaging" materials to feed the throw away economy are challenging since each comes with regrettable consequences.

Paper products, like napkins, plates, and food containers are filling overflowing garbage cans. These products come from oxygen-producing, carbon-capturing trees – our first defense in the climate crisis. Cutting them down means habitat loss and increasing species extinction, increasing water pollution, and worse air quality.

Aluminum is quickly becoming the material of choice because it is highly recyclable. But with the average recycled content of a can at 73% a fair amount of virgin material is still being used. The mining and transformation of raw bauxite into aluminum is energy intensive and releases perfluorocarbons that are 9,200 times more harmful than CO2 in global warming impacts.

Plastic is not a great choice, either. It's highly littered and hardly recyclable. One truckload per minute of plastic enters the ocean. Throughout its lifecycle, from the extraction of hydrocarbons through the processing to ultimate disposal, plastics are energy intensive, polluting, health-harming, and contribute to climate change. Roughly two-thirds of all plastic produced has been released to the environment and remains there causing harm. And it turns out that the U.S. is the biggest plastic waste generator and polluter in the world.

For years, communities have struggled to find alternatives to plastic that are better for the environment, but this quest has proven elusive. They are learning the hard way that "recyclable" foodware doesn't really get recycled. We've paid for recycling for years while our dirty paper and plastic got exported to become pollution in other countries – or it gets collected in the recycling bin only to end up in local landfills or incinerators where it pollutes our communities.

Compostable packaging some believe to be the sustainable panacea. But compostables are not really working well in the waste stream. Bioplastic compostable products, like cups and bags, get mixed up with and contaminate recycling. Only products certified to be compostable (bearing 3rd party labeling) are designed to degrade in commercial compost although many people mistake plant-based products with those designed for compost. Commercial composters largely don't want plastics made from plants, even the ones that are certified to meet lab standards for compostability, because they don't degrade quickly enough outside the lab and contaminate the compost. So too does paper and fiberware that is coated with forever-polluting PFAS chemicals. All packaging, even if it degrades in compost, dilutes the quality of the compost because it adds no nutrient value. Composters mostly want food and yard waste. Some accept technically compostable food packaging due to pressure from cities that are looking to divert waste from landfill. But they end up with piles of less valuable, dirty compost.

Reusable packaging: a win for the planet

Life cycle analysis – the footprint of a product through its lifetime, from production to disposal – generally views environmental impacts through as many as 14 categories, like raw materials extraction, manufacturing and transportation impacts, greenhouse gas and climate impacts, water and energy consumption, aquatic toxicity, and disposal related impacts. Through any of these measures, reusable products ultimately out-perform the disposable options.

Based on UPSTREAM's review of the life cycle analysis of reusable versus disposable take-out foodware, reusables are better for the environment after just a minimal number of uses:

  • Cups, plates and bowls: after 10-50 uses
  • Clamshells: after 15-20 uses
  • Utensils: after 2-4 uses

Reuse is Better for our Health – Especially Without Plastic

Many people want to eliminate plastic because of the impacts to our oceans and upsetting scenes of plastics' harm to turtles and whales. But a more personal impact comes from the health threats associated with plastics and chemicals in food packaging. The harm, including lowered fertility rates for men and women, developmental and neurological impairment, and elevated cancers and other chronic diseases, is harder to see and much widely recognized. That's why UPSTREAM is collaborating with Zero Waste Europe and GAIA in the UNWRAPPED project to share a Call to Action about the risks of plastics and chemicals in food packaging:

Non-plastic reusables are not only better for the environment, they are also safer for human health. When made from glass, stainless steel, and ceramic, the main package is inert. The threat of chemicals or microplastics migrating into the food or beverages we consume is far lower with non-plastic reusables.

Reusables Are Also Better for the Economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that a 20% shift to reusables presents a $10 billion dollar business savings. On the ground, programs like ReThink Disposable are providing this case. The program had over 160 food service businesses participate, and they found that every single one saved money by switching to some reusables in their operations – on average between $3,000- $22,000 per year.

Switching to reuse for take-out also reduces litter which will in turn save taxpayer dollars. More than $11.5 billion is spent every year in the U.S. to clean up litter on the streets, in storm drains and in rivers, and the most common objects found during beach and street litter clean-ups are food and beverage packaging.

Reuse also creates good local jobs. According to EcoCycle, there are 30 times more job opportunities with reuse than in landfilling and incinerating our waste.

Reduce is Also a Win

At UPSTREAM, we're working to get laws enacted that pave the way both for reducing and reusing. To reduce single-use in food service, we've launched the Skip the Stuff campaign which would require restaurants and online ordering apps to ask first before including the straws, utensils, condiment packets, and napkins that most of us already have at home or at the office.

So when you choose to Skip the Stuff, or you participate in a reusable cup or container program for your next take-out meal or beverage, you can feel good knowing that choosing to reduce and reuse is safer for our health, better for the planet, and saves business money. That's a real win!

How to Become a Reuse Solutioneer

People can spend their entire days and weeks trying to live a plastic-free lifestyle, but most of us don't have that kind of time. The problem is that we don't have a lot of choices in how the things we want to buy and use are packaged. The real solutions come from driving systems change by putting pressure on companies to offer us the products we want without the throw-away packaging.

You can drive change by supporting businesses that are doing things right. Here are some ways to support reuse businesses:

  • Call on restaurants to Reopen with Reuse: add your name to the statement asking our beloved restaurants to reopen with nontoxic reuse.
  • Find reuse businesses in your area and support them.
  • Support restaurants that serve on real plates, cups, and dishes.
  • Opt out of unnecessary accessories like disposable silverware and straws when you order take-out - #SkiptheStuff.

You can also take action now to get policies enacted that require packaging to be less toxic and more reusable.


Resources

1. Parashar, N, Hait, S. (2021, Plastics in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: Protector or polluter? Sci of the Total Env 759/144274.

2. Containers and Packaging: Product-Specific Data

3. The New Plastics Economy Rethinking the future of plastics

4. THE HIDDEN COSTS OF A PLASTIC PLANET

5. The United States' contribution of plastic waste to land and ocean

Food

Why Food-Prep Gloves at Restaurants Might Make Eating Out Extra Unhealthy

What you can do about the plastic gloves used to handle and serve food that are contaminating your restaurant meal

Despite all of the healthy eating Instagrammers we follow, we all eat out sometimes. Because life, job, kids…exhaustion. Sometimes grabbing something to eat, whether fast food or take out, is the only thing keeping you going. Plus it's healthier than eating a bowl of cereal for dinner, right?

But the more we found ourselves eating out, the more we wondered: other than perhaps added salt and fat, by eating out, are we exposing ourselves to chemicals? There are a lot of steps behind the scenes before you get your melty sandwich or burger. One of these steps is that food service workers handle and serve your food with plastic gloves, some of which are made with vinyl—which can contain toxic chemicals called phthalates (THAL-eights).

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