Helping find a cure for cancer or “pinkwashing” carcinogenic pollution? That is the question being raised upon the news that one of the world’s largest fossil fuel services firms is partnering with the Susan G. Komen Foundation on a breast cancer awareness campaign, despite possible links between fracking and cancer.
According to the website of energy services firm Baker Hughes, “the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide” as a “reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening and education to help find the cures” for breast cancer. The firm, which is involved in hydraulic fracturing, is also donating $100,000 to the Komen Foundation in what it calls a “yearlong partnership.”
On Wednesday, Baker Hughes also initiated its new policy of disclosing all the chemicals used in the fracking process, publishing the list on fracfocus.org, the industry's website, reported the Associated Press. Health advocates and environmental activists have long prodded the industry for full disclosure.
In recent years, scientific studies have raised the prospect of a link between oil and gas exploration and cancer.
For example, Texas regulators reviewing cancer rates in an area of heavy natural gas development recently concluded that “consistent with previous analyses, female breast cancer had a higher than expected number of cases in the area.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that a recent government study found that “some workers at oil and gas sites where fracking occurs are routinely exposed to high levels of benzene” -- a chemical scientists believe is a carcinogen that may be linked to breast cancer. And a 2012 study by University of Colorado researchers found “higher cancer risks for residents living nearer to [gas] wells as compared to those residing further [away].”
Some of the findings of the studies have been disputed. A spokeswoman for the Komen Foundation, who said the partnership "grew from Baker Hughes' involvement in our Houston Race for the Cure" and that "the issue is personal to them and their employees," told International Business Times that "the evidence to this point does not establish a connection between fracking and breast cancer."
Only two years ago, the Komen Foundation provoked a firestorm of criticism for its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood efforts to combat breast cancer. The move was “seen by many as a statement against legal abortion,” said the New York Times.
The foundation has been accused before of helping “pinkwash” corporations whose products critics say may actually promote cancer.
Writing at EcoWatch, biologist Sandra Steingraber labeled the Komen alliance with Baker Hughes as “pinkwashing,” and said of the foundation: “It’s time to stop taking money from the frackers.”
This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. when the Komen Foundation replied to IBTimes' request for comment.