Report of the Hazards Campaign/TUC Meeting – Breast cancer is an industrial issue

The meeting , held on 10 March 2021, was jointly organised by Hazards Campaign and the TUC to consider the Breast Cancer as an industrial issue.

Helen Lynn from Breast Cancer Alliance and Hilda Palmer Hazards Campaign provided an introduction to the meeting and it was a follow up to a Hazards Campaign meeting Breast Cancer Awareness is not enough held in October 2020 with Helen Lynn, Jane Stewart and Jane Jane McArthur speaking at it.  A link to film recording and resources can be found at:

Helen Lynn:

Breast cancer is not a rite of passage

–         it’s a social justice and human rights issue

–         its an occupational and environmental disease while also being an indication of the state of the environment, that’s all environments, the workplace, the home, the wider environment and the first environment

–         the womb. And breast cancer can begin in the womb with pre-birth exposure to toxic chemicals

–         which is why it is so important to protect women and men in the workplace.

We must not forget there are lives behind every statistic.

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in UK women with 55,176 and 390 men diagnosed per year -150/day.
  • Deaths – 11,500 women and 85 men per year – 32 people die from breast cancer each day.
  • In the last 25 years in the UK rates have gone from 1 in 12 to 1 in 7.
  • Incidence risen by 72% in the last 50 years.
  • Up to 70% of cases have no known cause – 30% attributed to lifestyle risk factors + genetic predisposition
  • It’s the 2nd most common cause of cancer death and the leading cause of death in women under 50.
  • There are an estimated 35,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK.
  • Breast cancer deaths in England are more common in females living in the most deprived areas.
  • Ethnic variations – patients known to be black are younger, less likely to be screen-detected and have worse prognosis tumours.

The issues

  • Breast cancer not just a gender issue, it is a health and safety issue.
  • But women are particularly affected because there are sex differences are found in almost every system of the body. There is lifetime of hormonal changes ie pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause.

Women are not the default male.

  • Different immune systems – so we are more prone to auto immune disease – women make up 80% of those affected. Thinner skin – may allow great absorption of chemicals. Detox more slowly.
    The solutions
  • The current narrative is that breast cancer is that its all down to poor diet, wonky genes, too much alcohol and not enough exercise is not working, has not worked for the last 50 odd years. Cancer rates continue to rise as do deaths form cancer.
  • The human rights approach – United Nation Environment and the UN Human rights programme have issues key messages for human health and hazardous substances.
  • Stating that states are obliged to respect protect and prevent exposures to hazardous substances and failure to do so is a violation of obligations in relation to human rights and the right to life. Specifically mentions women and girls and workers at heightened risk of occupational exposure.

A cancer free economy –

  • The cancer free economy movement seeks to analysis the system which has created an economy that depends on hazardous and harmful chemicals and bring about a just transition to a cancer-free economy that works for all people and the planet.
  • Recognising environmental and occupational risk factors in all cancer plans.
  • The environmental and occupational risk factors are the missing confounding risk factors in all cancer plans and strategies.

Some solutions:

  • Toxic tours of homes, workplaces, bathroom cabinets.
  • Demand all breast and cancer charities refences any information on risk factors on their website.
  • Toxic use reduction and COSHH (Hilda)
  • Risk perception – Jane McArthur’s work – Interesting approach to understanding breast cancer risk by assessing women’s occupational and environmental risk perception.
  • Need to campaign from a worker, consumer and citizen perspective.

More information:

Hilda Palmer:

Hilda also presented information:

Breast Cancer possible exposure causes at work include: Ionising radiation; endocrine disrupters; solvents; environmental tobacco smoke; PCBs; pesticides, including DDT/DDE, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, heptachlor breakdown products and triazine herbicides; combustion by-products including PAHs and dioxin; reactive chemicals including ethylene oxide; possible links to non-ionising radiation, phthalates; work as a firefighter; also long term nightwork and others

Hilda emphasised the importance of COSHH regulations, requiring employers to identify and risk assess all substances and prevent exposure of workers to substances that harm their health at work using the COSHH control hierarchy. Unfortunately the enforcement of this hierarchy as especially elimination and substitution is poorly enforced.  She said that it was important to use the precautionary principle to the risks by substituting safer substances- Intelligent substitution based on the hazards of whole class of chemicals – TURI where possible.  And using high standards of mechanical ventilation where necessary, air monitoring and also a precautionary level of PPE properly fitted for the individual where necessary.

Hilda proposed suggestions for action, including:

  • Explicitly campaign for prevention of cancer caused by work 12%
  • Explicitly link Breast Cancer with work causes not lifestyle
  • Make eliminating exposures to carcinogens (EDCs, Mutagens and Rep Toxics)  an explicit aim
  • Demand Risk Assessments, research, actions all  sex/gender sensitive – resurrect TUC GOSH and develop into whole stream of work 
  • Use existing law COSHH better, demand better enforcement of control hierarchy
  • Campaign for better laws/actions: Toxic Use Reduction;
  • Link Justice, Equality Human Rights, Environmental with workplace health and safety – 20% cancer caused by work+env exposure+ causes linked
  • Avoid Pink washing and putting Breast Cancer in wellbeing box

It was agreed to:

  • Support the setting up of a GOSH-Gender in Occupational Safety and Health committee to look in particular at the impact of work on women health and bodies.
  • To consider the suggestions for action and solutions recommended by Helen and Hilda in their presentations.

Further information:

·       Toxic Use Reduction htps://www.resea

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