News Stories

Cancer on the Job

Working with plastic parts containing BPA--in auto industries, for instance--may make women more vulnerable to breast cancer. Women in Toronto's plastic automotive parts factories have complained about pungent fumes and dust that caused nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and dizziness.

In the November 19th edition of the Toronto Star, Jim Morris, Jennifer Quinn, Robert Cribb and Julian Sher quotes auto plant worker Gina DeSantis as saying, "People were getting sick, but you never really thought about the plastic itself." She has worked there for 30 years.

A new six-year study confirms her fears, showing elevated breast cancer risks among workers exposed to toxic chemicals from plastic, mainly BPA. Women working in the automotive plastics industry are almost five times as likely to develop breast cancer, prior to menopause, as other women workers.

Plastics manufacturing in Canada is a $21-billion industry employing about 91,000 people, mostly in small- and medium-sized companies. These factory workers may handle a whole array of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including the hardening agent bisphenol A (BPA), which was banned by Canada for use in baby bottles in 2010 and is the source of widespread consumer concerns for its use in water bottles and other products.

The authors quote researcher James Brophy as saying, "These workplace chemicals are now present in our air, water, food and consumer products. If we fail to take heed then we are doing so at our own peril.

"There seems to be widespread concern about consumer exposures (to chemicals) but almost no concern for the most highly-exposed population --the blue-collar workers. These women remain invisible and their cancer risk largely ignored." Inspections don't always reveal the danger because the chemicals used can change from day to day, depending on what is being made.

The authors quote union official Bob DeMatteo as saying that some of the chemicals in these plants can be dangerous if they get into the body even at extremely low levels of exposures--"like a key in a keyhole, click, they turn on."

They quote plant worker Gina DeSantis, who has done auto factory work for 25 years, as saying, "It's not just the workers--it's you, too. If there’s no local ventilation, then they open the doors, and out it goes--into your neighborhood, into your community. You need plastics. You need steel. And people need their jobs. There just has to be a safer way to do it."

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