This October is both Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the 110th anniversary of the Ford Model T. Ford Motor Company tells us they are “dedicated to fueling the spirit of those living with” breast cancer through their Warriors in Pink campaign. But in reality their cars and trucks are fueling the breast cancer epidemic.
A quarter of a million women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer annually, and more than 40,000 people will die of the disease this year. All of the hope, inspiration, and determination that Ford’s Warriors in Pink promises to fuel will not change these grim statistics as long as Ford’s cars and trucks continue to produce cancer-causing emissions.
Most conversations about breast cancer prevention focus on genetic testing. But inherited mutations accounts for only an estimated 10 percent of all breast cancers, leaving the majority of people diagnosed with the disease with no known risk factors. And many of the widely-accepted risk factors, such as when a woman starts her period or goes into menopause, are not things that a person can change.
Scientists looking for possible targets to prevent breast cancer have identified environmental toxins as important contributors to breast cancer risk. In 2009 President’s Cancer Panel reported that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.”
Some of the first chemicals researchers have identified as increasing the risk of breast cancer are found in the exhaust from combustion engines: carcinogens and hormone disruptors such as benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Benzene is such a potent mammary carcinogen it has been linked to breast cancer in men. Virtually everyone in the U.S. breaths in auto exhaust. Again, the 2009 President’s Cancer Panel recommended limiting exposure to auto exhaust noting that cars, trucks, and other passenger vehicles “are responsible for approximately 30 percent of cancer resulting from air pollution.”
As one of the Big Three automobile manufacturers in the U.S., Ford is in a position to make a huge difference in reducing cancer rates by making clean vehicles.
If Ford truly wants us to believe they have “been active in the fight against breast cancer since 1993,” why would they decide earlier this year to go full-throttle on sales of the highest-emission trucks and SUVs, while virtually eliminating lower emission passenger vehicles from their U.S. fleet? Why have they proudly announced a new diesel version of “America’s best-selling” F-150 truck—when diesel is enriched with nitro PAHs, which are particularly potent mammary carcinogens? Why will they stop sales in the U.S. of their only 100 percent electric, zero emission car?
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Attempting to brush aside criticism for these recent announcements, Ford is loudly touting plans for future investment in electrification—nearly all of which will be in China, where regulation standards are higher. Yet at a major auto show in the U.S. earlier this year, Ford notably failed to showcase any electric vehicles.
Breast cancer is a public health crisis and a social justice issue. We can’t afford to hold our breath and hope Ford’s promise of new, cleaner vehicles will come to the U.S. sometime down the road.
Ford Warriors in Pink sells branded clothes and other gear in order to raise money for four breast cancer charities. They provide “tips,” “inspirational postcards,” “healing music,” and spotlight 122 “Models of Courage” in order to fuel “the spirit of those living with the disease.” But this is nothing more than an attempt by Ford to distract attention away from their role in driving the breast cancer epidemic.
We can see through the pink-tinted smoke screen of Ford’s Warriors in Pink. Truth be told, Ford’s Warriors in Pink program is just another example of “pinkwashing.” Breast Cancer Action first coined the term in 2002 to reveal the hypocrisy of companies that claim to care about breast cancer, but actually manufacture or sell products that are linked to increasing the risk of the disease.
Rather than cleaning up their cars, Ford tells us we need to “harness that fighting spirit.” But the truth is, no matter how hard someone “fights”—how strong or determined or hopeful they are—up to 30 percent of all breast cancers will go on to spread or metastasize.
It’s time for Ford to show their commitment to people affected by breast cancer by making the shift to 100 percent zero emission vehicles. Instead of pinkwashing and platitudes, Ford can “go further” by no longer making vehicles that produce exhaust.
One hundred and ten years ago, Ford made its name by bringing the Model-T to the masses. Now it’s time Ford to bring an all-electric fleet to the masses. By turning away from cancer-causing combustion engines cars and towards zero-emission cars and trucks, Ford can truly help put the brakes on the breast cancer epidemic. After all, the best way to fight cancer is to prevent it in the first place.