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Study Does Not Demonstrate That Workplace Exposures Cause Cancer


Contact: Kathryn St. John (202) 249-6513  
Email: Kathryn_Stjohn@americanchemistry.com

WASHINGTON (November 19, 2012)The following statement can be attributed to the American Chemistry Council regarding a study published in Environmental Health, by  James T. Brophy, et.al, regarding breast cancer risk in relation to occupations in Canadian workers:

"Our members support strong enforcement of the standards and laws that protect worker health and safety as we continue to produce materials that enable healthier and more efficient lives, including the plastics that make today’s automobiles safer and more fuel efficient than ever before.

“It is concerning that the authors could be over-interpreting their results and unnecessarily alarm workers. This study included no data showing if there was actual chemical exposure, from what chemicals, at what levels, and over what period of time in any particular workplace. Although this is an important area of research, these findings are inconsistent with other research. This study should not be used to draw any conclusions about the cause of cancer patterns in workers.”

  • The study only demonstrates statistical associations. And, the study only examines occupations, not exposures to any agents or substances.  Since there is no actual determination of exposures to such substances, no documentation of their presence in the workplace of study subjects and no basis to conclude that exposures to such substances are any different for cases rather than controls.

  • Although this is a worthy and important area of research, it is inappropriate to use such research as the basis for speculation about causes of patterns of cancer rates among occupations without any information of substance about whether there are actual exposures, to what actual substances and how big they might be.

  • As listed by the American Cancer Society, the well-established risk factors for breast cancer are not chemical exposures, but rather a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. These include: gender, aging, genetic risk factors, family history of breast cancer, personal history of breast cancer, race and ethnicity, dense breast tissue, menstrual periods, previous chest radiation, Diethylstilbestrol exposure, having children, birth control, hormone therapy after menopause, breastfeeding, alcohol, being overweight or obese and physical activity. Under a separate heading, “Factors with uncertain, controversial or unproven effect on breast cancer risk” the National Cancer Institute lists “chemicals in the environment”; adding that “research does not show a clear link between breast cancer risk and exposure to these substances.” This study did not account for the majority of these risk factors, meaning that any of them could be responsible for any particular case's cancer, rather than an occupational exposure.

  • The potential carcinogenic properties of chemicals, and the ability of some agents to affect the endocrine system, are all subjects of intense research and testing. Most evidence is mixed and does not indicate any clear breast-cancer causing agents that would operate in humans at exposure levels that they experience in the environment or workplace.

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