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Study suggests women working with plastic auto parts among those with higher-than-normal cancer risk; industry responds

Industry associations are questioning a new Canadian study that suggests women working in certain industries – including some that relate to plastics – appear to have a higher-than-normal risk of developing breast cancer.



Industry associations are questioning a new Canadian study that suggests women working in certain industries – including some that relate to plastics – appear to have a higher-than-normal risk of developing breast cancer.

According to the study, which received prominent coverage from the Globe and Mail, National Post, and Toronto Star news outlets, women working with automotive plastics and in food canning operations are roughly five times more likely to develop breast cancer before menopause than women who do not.

Women working in tooling, foundries, and metal-related manufacturing have nearly double the risk of developing breast cancer as other women, the study said, and women working in bars and gambling facilities are more than two times more likely than other women to develop breast cancer.

The study was the result of a multi-year research project funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

The study concludes that women who work for a 10-year period in environments with high exposure to carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals have an average increase in breast cancer risk of 42 per cent. The work was done by an international team of researchers, led by Dr. James Brophy and Dr. Margaret Keith, both of whom have appointments at both the University of Windsor and the University of Stirling, in Scotland.

The team gathered occupational histories from more than 2,000 women in Essex and Kent counties in southern Ontario, including both those diagnosed with breast cancer and women unaffected by the disease.

The manufacturing industry was quick to respond, however, with industry officials in Canada and the U.S. questioning the findings. “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 today’s automobiles safer and more fuel efficient than ever before,” said the American Chemistry Council (ACC). “It is concerning that the authors could be over-interpreting their results and unnecessarily alarming workers.  This study included no data showing if there were actual chemical exposures, 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 and should not be used to draw conclusions about the cause of cancer patterns in workers.”

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association weighed in by supporting the ACC statement, “including the point that there should be strong support for enforcement of all regulations that protect worker health and safety.”


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