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Research Underway Investigating Link Between Breast Cancer and Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, October 7, 2003)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting research in California, monitoring women's breast milk for chemical contamination, according to the Los Angeles Times. The research, known as biomonitoring, is helpful in tracking where chemical contamination occurs and possible health effects of it. "Biomonitoring is telling us what's in our bodies and are [the levels of those toxic substances] going up or down - are there things we need to worry about?" says Kim Hooper, a state scientist who is co-directing the breast-milk biomonitoring study in Torrance, the Central Valley and Marin County. Pesticides are abound in Central Valley, Torrance is home to a hazardous waste site, and Marin County has an unusually high rate of breast cancer. Breast milk is targeted since chemicals accumulate in the fat cells of the breast. Milk is being examined from of 120 new mothers to test a hypothesis that environmental pollutants may cause breast cancer.

The research is needed now more than ever as breast cancer rates continue to rise, and biomonitoring technology is improved to the point that it is now possible to detect a wider array of chemicals in the body at much lower levels than before. Studies suggest that fewer than half of breast-cancer cases can be explained by known risk factors, such as genetic traits and reproductive patterns. American women today have a one in eight chance of developing the disease, up from one in 22 in the 1940s. Beyond Pesticides reported on the rising breast cancer rate in the April 8, 2002 edition of Daily News.

Breast cancer prevention advocates in California, including the Breast Cancer Fund, are supporting proposed legislation that would conduct biomonitoring on a larger, state-wide scale. "It became very clear to us that what is not being addressed is the unexplained risk factors in breast cancer," says Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of Breast Cancer Fund. "We saw more and more science connecting synthetic chemicals with breast cancer." The bill, SB 689, would include collecting blood and urine samples and attempt to point out trends in chemical exposures, identify disproportionately affected communities, link exposures to disease, assess the effectiveness of current regulations and set priorities for research and legislation. SB 689 was introduced by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and passed a Senate committee before stalling. It will be reviewed in January.

Biomonitoring studies pinpointing chemical contamination in people have occurred on a national scale as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, which detected a total of 89 chemicals in the volunteers tested, including selected organophosphate pesticides, herbicides, pest repellents and disinfectants. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), in partnership with Mt. Sinai School of Community Medicine and Commonweal, released a similar study, Body Burden: The Pollution In People, in which subjects contained an average of 91 compounds, most of which did not exist 75 years ago. This story was covered in the February 4, 2003 edition of Daily News.

There is some concern over how chemical detection in breast milk may affect the community. Experts say that despite the detection of chemicals, breast milk is still the best choice for nursing. "The little we do know is it looks like any damage [from pollutants] happens to the fetus in utero and breast-feeding tends to reverse that damage," Hooper says.

For more information regarding pesticides in breast milk, the link between pesticides and breast cancer, and other related issues contact Beyond Pesticides.