Why are preventable occupational and environmental breast cancer risks ignored?

Breast Cancer Awareness Month has provided a welcome focus on a condition that has risen sharply over the last 40 years, but campaigners are concerned the UK government and breast cancer charities are resolutely ignoring the host of preventable occupational and environmental causes of the condition.

To address this, campaign group From Pink to Prevention has produced a new ‘toolkit’ with an interactive webpage, posters and an action guide. As a first step it says it wants the annual awareness event renamed ‘Breast Cancer Prevention Month’.

The campaign says it “is disturbed to discover the failure of leading breast cancer charities to inform women about all the risk factors, and questions the exclusive focus on lifestyle factors (alcohol, exercise and smoking) and the 10 per cent of cases linked to genetic factors, to the exclusion of the impact toxic chemicals are having on the health of every single one of us.”

From Pink to Prevention adds: “Given that the vast amount of existing research into lifelong (womb to grave) exposures to environmental and occupational risk factors and the fact that breast cancer is a hormonal disease, this selective narrative could be seen as a barrier to official and public recognition of the right to know.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas is backing the campaign for a greater emphasis on preventive action. Her early day motion notes “that along with lifestyle causes, better treatment and care, women’s everyday exposure to environmental and occupational toxicants is the crucial missing piece of the breast cancer jigsaw and the public’s right to know demands urgent attention.”

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Unions expose Samsung’s ‘medieval practices’ worldwide

The global reach of Samsung’s ruthless pursuit of profits impacts dangerously on the lives of its workers, a new report has charged.

Samsung – Modern tech medieval conditions, published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the global union IndustriALL, reveals how the company’s ‘corporate greed’ is causing problems from cancer to brutal working conditions and job insecurity throughout the multinational’s supply chains.

“From denying justice to the families of former employees who died from cancers caused by unsafe workplaces, to dodging tax and engaging in price-fixing cartels, one thing is constant: Samsung’s corporate culture is ruthlessly geared towards maximising profit to the detriment of the everyday lives of its workers,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC’s general secretary.

The report’s publication came ahead of a 7 October rally at Samsung’s Seoul headquarters. The protest, on World Day for Decent Work, was organised by the Seoul-based health and safety campaign group SHARPS (Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semi-Conductor Industry).

“Corporate greed, corporate bullying cannot be tolerated – it’s time for a global rule of law to guarantee globalisation with fair working conditions, with rights, minimum wages on which people can live with dignity and safe and secure work,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL.

Sharan Burrow said: “Beginning with Samsung, we have begun to expose corporate greed and the failure of the world’s biggest corporations to account for abuse in their supply chains – from union busting, poverty wages, insecure and unsafe work, to forced overtime, informal work and modern slavery.”

The ITUC leader added: “It doesn’t end here: we will keep up the pressure for reform and the rule of law, we will engage with pension funds managing workers’ capital regarding investment strategies and we will stand with workers everywhere as they demand the rule of law. We will end corporate greed.”

The ITUC is petitioning Samsung to end worker abuse and to abolish its no-union policy.



UK union group probes rare brain cancer cluster

Audrey Musson is one of five widows of Staveley Chemicals workers who died from the rare brain cancer, glioma. Pictured with a photo of her late husband Neville. Photo: Sheffield Star

The families of five chemical plant colleagues who all died of a rare type of brain cancer have said they want answers. The cluster of glioma cases, affecting men who all worked at Staveley Chemicals in Derbyshire, was unearthed by the Chesterfield-based Trade Union Safety Team (TRUST).

The ongoing investigation by the trades council-linked TRUST, working with experts from Stirling University’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, is exploring links with chemicals handled at the site.

TRUST’s John Knight, who with colleague Joanne Gordon is leading the research, said: “Having done some initial research we have found that in the normal population, 8 in every 100,000 people would be expected to die from this rare condition, here we have at least four in a localised vicinity. This together with the fact that the men died within a few years of each other makes it very unusual.”

He added: “As part of our in-depth research we will also look into possible causes of this rare brain cancer, including any exposure to hazardous substances such as known carcinogens like benzene and mercury.”

Audrey Musson, the widow of Staveley glioma victim Neville Musson, said she hopes a new investigation into any links between the deaths and the chemical plant may give them, and potentially others, some answers.

She added: “They all died of these brain tumours, so alarm bells started ringing. The researchers now are trying to find a link with the chemicals. It’s so upsetting, but we’ll see what comes out of this. If there’s anybody else out there whose husbands had brain tumours, we’d like anybody to come forward.”

TRUST’s Joanne Gordon said: “We will do our level best to get to the bottom of what is a very concerning case.”

In a statement, the last owners of Staveley, French firm Rhodia, said it was sympathetic to the concerns of the families and would respond if reliable data or new findings became available.


US industries queue up to defend their toxins

A new US chemical safety law has triggered an immediate response from chemical producers – a helter-skelter rush to ensure their favourites are the back of the queue for official scrutiny.

The Frank R Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century, passed into law in June this year, gave the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority needed to evaluate and regulate the tens of thousands of commercial chemicals it oversees in the US.

The law was hailed as a more transparent ‘new risk-based safety standard’, replacing the Toxic Substances Control Act’s (TSCA) cost-benefit analysis that required EPA to include commercial considerations when deciding on chemical restrictions.

“But many industry group comments suggest we’ve not heard the last of the old argument,” writes chemical safety journalist Elizabeth Grossman. She says on the ‘keep off’ list are top causes of occupational cancer, including asbestos, benzidine dyes and vinyl chloride monomer.

While industry groups are actively defending the toxic substances they produce or use, other stakeholders are calling on EPA to make these high risk substances a priority. Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee’s ranking Democrat, has written to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy asking that asbestos be among the first 10 chemicals the Lautenberg Act considers.

“The EPA’s proposed choices are due by mid-December,” writes Grossman. “They will reveal whether the Lautenberg Act will move to restrict hazardous chemicals of great concern to workers and work sites.”

Firefighters’ guide to occupational cancer prevention

The UK  firefighters’ union FBU says occupational cancer is a ‘serious threat’ for firefighters. In response, the union has produced an initial guidance document which highlights the basic principles to follow to prevent unnecessary contamination with smoke, fumes, chemicals and other hazardous substances before, during and after incidents.

The union says FBU officials will be asked to raise these issues with management and at health and safety committee meetings. It adds that some fire and rescue authorities have already taken steps to address the problem, but says ‘our aim is that it will soon be on the agenda in every brigade.’

FBU says Contaminants – protection against cancer, which includes a 10-point action plan, is only initial advice. “The FBU is looking at medium and longer term options,” it notes. “As a member you can start to make a difference today by adopting the principles suggested in this document.”

Samsung lung cancer deaths were ‘occupational’

The lung cancer deaths of two former Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory workers have been accepted as work-related by the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL).

The cases are the first officially recognised cases of occupational lung cancer among Samsung Electronics semiconductor workers. The ruling is expected to prove controversial, with lung cancer not included among diseases Samsung Electronics has acknowledged as linked to semiconductor work.

A 1 September statement from the human rights group Banollim stated that KCOMWEL “issued final rulings on 29 and 30 August recognising the lung cancer deaths of Lee Gyeong-hui and Song Yu-gyeong as industrial accidents.”

Lee died aged 38 and Song aged 43. KCOMWEL’s decision came over two years after the family members applied for bereavement benefits. According to the ruling, “the deceased appear to have been continuously exposed to arsenic while performing their duties, and given that their diagnoses of and deaths from lung cancer came at an early age in the absence of other risk factors, a connection with their duties is recognised.” Arsenic is a known cause of lung cancer.

An epidemiological report for Lee’s case said there was evidence of four Samsung Electronics partner companies attempting to hinder KCOMWEL’s investigation. At the time, the semiconductor production line where Lee and Song worked had been outsourced to current Samsung partners.

Banollim said: “During this investigation, Samsung Electronics claimed not to use carcinogens, but there was no mention of arsenic in the materials it presented as evidence.”

The campaign for Samsung victims, SHARPS, said the KCOMWEL ruling meant the Korean authorities now recognise officially eight conditions as occupationally related to semiconductor work: Leukaemia; lymphoma; aplastic anaemia; breast cancer; chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy; brain cancer; ovarian cancer; and lung cancer.

Stop Samsung blog. The Hankyoreh. Equal Times.


US union campaign to tackle cancer risks from firefighting

US firefighters are more at risk for cancer than the general population, according to union research forming part of a high profile campaign for fairer compensation laws and prevention measures.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)  report says the risk is “significantly higher for firefighters than the general population” because when fighting fires they are apt to come into contact with synthetic materials such as plastics, foam and coatings that contain carcinogens. The report cites a 2013 study by the US government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that found firefighters have a 14 per cent increased risk of dying from cancer when compared with the general population.

“Our communities and their legislators need to understand how PTSD and cancer are impacting their firefighters over the course of a long and dedicated career protecting the public,” IAFF president Harold Schaitberger said in a statement. “New advanced protocols are needed to help prevent PTSD and cancer from taking hold, and more elected officials need to step up and support laws that help firefighters afflicted with these hidden hazards.”

The IAFF has run a highly successful campaign for state-based presumptive legislation for firefighters who contract cancer, meaning in most instances firefighters developing a related cancer qualify for compensation automatically. In April, Idaho became the 34th state to introduce these presumptive protections. The union has also developed occupational cancer prevention resources.

The study also found firefighters were at a much greater risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


The cancer secret of Canada’s chemical valley

Chemical Valley Video by Sara Ashtiani & Alex Leszkowiat.

Chinese benzene cancer victims speak out

Workers employed by Chinese electronics giant Johnson Electric have spoken out after developing blood cancers they say are caused by chemical exposures at work.

Three employees or former employees of Huaseng Motor (Guangdong) Limited in Shenzhen, a subsidiary of Johnson Electric, believe they contracted leukaemia due to prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals, including the potent human carcinogen benzene. They say the company provided neither safety equipment nor training for workers, with a number of them contracting leukaemia as a result.

Xie Fengping, a mother of two daughters, had worked for Johnson Electric since late 2008. Her main duties were to handle inks and thinners to print labels on products. In September of 2013, she was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. Zeng Shumei worked for the company from August 2009 and was diagnosed with the cancer in 2013 after being exposed to substances including paints, thinners and industrial alcohol. Zou Xiuhua, who had worked for Johnson Electric since early 2013, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in June 2014.

The firm has denied any of the cancers are work-related and has refused to pay either medical costs or compensation. It also obstructed efforts to get the workers assessed by the occupational health clinic.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) affected workers went public in a July press conference in Hong Kong, before going on to the Johnson Electric annual general meeting, where company CEO Dr Patrick Wang declined to hear their complaints. The Johnson Electric website notes: “The Company also welcomes comments and questions from individual shareholders at its Annual General Meeting,” a welcome not apparently extended to employees.

The workers want the company to recognise their cancers are work-related, provide compensation and medical expenses, and to improve health and safety at the company. They also want an end to the use of benzene and other potentially deadly chemicals.


British mesothelioma stats show need for asbestos action

A single type of asbestos cancer has killed over 2,500 people in Great Britain for three consecutive years, latest official statistics show.

National union federation the TUC, commenting on the release by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of mortality figures for mesothelioma, said although most people have probably never heard of the cancer, the new figures for 2014 show that “for the third year running, the number of deaths from mesothelioma has been over 2,500 and this level is likely to continue for at least the rest of the decade.”

The TUC calculates that since mesothelioma deaths figures were first published in 1968, “the number of people who are recorded as having died from mesothelioma in the past 46 years is 54,631. Given the high levels of under-diagnosis in previous decades, the true figure is much higher.”

TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson noted: “We could have prevented most of these deaths if the government had listened to the unions and safety campaigners instead of the employers and asbestos industry when asbestos was being widely used in the 1960s and 70s.

“The importation and use of asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 so of course we are now told that mesothelioma is soon going to become a disease of the past. Well it is not. There are still millions of tonnes of it in place in at least half a million commercial properties, and every day thousands of workers are put at risk of breathing in the fatal fibre.”

He said while the government’s recent moves to compensate mesothelioma victims and to provide seed corn funding for a research centre into the condition was welcome, “if it wants to really do something about this terrible disease, it has to take the more long-term view and work toward the complete eradication of asbestos. Only then will we be able to consign mesothelioma to the history books.”

A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards magazine, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).