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The California Department of Public Health has just launched a web tool (http://cbcrp.org/worker-exposure) allowing the state’s 6.6 million working women to identify occupational exposures contributing to breast cancer risks. The tool is the product of a collaboration project between researchers from the University of California in San Francisco and the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health. It is part of a wider research programme looking into breast cancer risks associated with work-related exposure to chemical products.

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Designed in a very pedagogic way, the interactive tool can be consulted in several different ways. One starts out from specific occupations, listing probable, possible or unlikely exposures. Another starts out from a classification of products by usage or their chemical characteristics, allowing users to find out which occupations are likely to be exposed. A total of 161 occupations have been analysed.

For each of them, the tool lists the total number of women employed, the categories of chemical products enhancing the risk of developing breast cancer and a detailed list of the various products in each category. For example, the occupation “sales assistant” shows a list of chemical products likely to enhance the risk of developing breast cancer, such as the Bisphenol A used in printing till receipts or the aromas used in many products. Entries such as “anti-cancer drugs”, “hair dyes” or “cleaning products” produce a list of products as well as a list of exposed occupations. The criteria for listing products involve three possible health impacts: known and suspected carcinogens affecting the mammary glands, toxic substances for these glands, or endocrine disruptors.

The tool also provides an overview of health inequalities linked to the ethnic division of labour. It assesses the shares of different ethnic groups (according to the usual categories used in US statistics) in the exposed occupational groups. For instance, one finding is that 80% of female domestic staff are Hispanics, while this figure drops to 15% when looking at the management category. The tool also enables research into the age groups involved.

The goal of the tool is to provide accurate information on occupational exposure and to encourage measures for better prevention. It addresses both the research world (with a view to promoting research into the occupational risks leading to breast cancer) and women workers (with a view to facilitating collective action to eliminate such risks). The tool provides access to the compliance database run by the federal  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has data on each inspected company, showing which exposures to chemical risks have been identified there. This database covers the period 1984-2019.

“Currently, the vast majority of breast cancer prevention campaigns generally ignore occupational exposures. Such a tool shows that, on the basis of existing knowledge, better workplace prevention could significantly reduce the burden of such cancers”, stated Laurent Vogel, senior researcher at the ETUI.

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