New Research: Chemical Exposures of Women Workers in the Plastics Industry in Relation to Breast Cancer Risk

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National Network on Environments and Women's Health


TORONTO, ON (December 6, 2012) A new study published in the journal New Solutions presents strong evidence that women employed in the plastics industry are exposed to workplace chemicals that can increase their risk of breast cancer and reproductive abnormalities.  Spearheaded by Robert DeMatteo, in partnership with Margaret Keith, James Brophy, and the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health (NNEWH), the research supports Brophy and Keith’s recently reported epidemiological findings of a 5-fold elevated breast cancer risk for premenopausal women who work in the plastics industry.  Together, these studies reveal the need for swift regulatory action on carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals in Canada. 

From extensive interviews with workers and a review of available government and industry hygiene reports, the study found that exposure controls and government enforcement was virtually non-existent in many workplaces.  One worker explained the way chemical exposures affect her daily: “I don’t know if it’s from the smoke or if it’s from the fumes.  You smell fumes, you taste [it] in your mouth, and then you get—it’s like a light-headedness, dizziness.”  According to DeMatteo, “Much of what workers describe about their working conditions was corroborated by our review of various industry and government hygiene reports.  These reports indicate that there was little or no local exhaust ventilation to prevent worker exposures.   To make matters worse, very few of the reports we reviewed indicate that inspectors wrote orders for remedial action.”

Brophy and Keith note that the study’s synthesis of scientific findings on carcinogens and endocrine disruptors is one of its most important contributions. “The review of the bio-monitoring literature shows that workers in this industry have high body burdens of hormone disrupting chemicals such as acrylonitrile, styrene, BPA, and phthalates,” stated Keith.

While federal regulators declared BPA “toxic” in 2010, and took action to ban baby bottles that were manufactured using the known hormone disruptor, there are still no safeguards in place to protect workers who are directly exposed to BPA (and several other carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals used as additives in plastics manufacturing) on a daily basis. “Canadians are entitled to expect that once a substance is declared “toxic” according to federal law, regulators will work together to reduce our exposures to it. This is what adherence to the precautionary principle requires,” said Dayna Nadine Scott, Director of NNEWH, located at York University.

The full study can be found on the following websites: National Network on Environments and Women’s Health, CWHN, and Baywood Publishing. Media contacts: National Network on Environments and Women’s Health at or 416-736-2100 ext. 20711 and the Canadian Women’s Health Network at or 204-470-1825.

Funding for this project has been made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada. This project incorporates research and focus groups funded by The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Ontario.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.

New Solutions Article.pdf118.38 KB
Dematteo Press Release_ENG_Dec5.pdf130.39 KB