Toxic Bust
Chemicals and Breast Cancer

a documentary by Megan Siler
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Toxic Bust: Background and synopsis

Breast cancer receives a lot of national attention, but much of it focuses on diagnosis, treatment and searching for “the cure”. Far less effort is devoted to prevention and finding the causes of the disease.

Despite advances in breast cancer detection and treatment, breast cancer rates continue to rise. The rate has nearly tripled since 1940. Now, 1 in 7 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Over 50% of these breast cancer cases cannot be explained by personal risk factors or hereditary causes, and are “unknown”.

Several types of research – laboratory, body burden and ecological – provide strong evidence of the connection between synthetic chemicals and breast cancer. Despite this growing body of evidence, less than 3% of federal breast cancer research funds have gone into investigating environmental links to breast cancer.
A number of chemicals found in our homes, schools, and workplaces are known carcinogens or endocrine disrupters. However of the 85,000 chemicals in use today, 90% have never been tested for their effects of on human health, so we do not know their potential for harm. Up to 200 chemicals can be found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
Interweaving fiction and documentary, hard science and personal testimony, Toxic Bust uncovers mounting evidence linking breast cancer to toxic chemical exposure. The film follows the story of a 40-something woman who finds a lump in her breast, but like a majority of women with breast cancer, she has none of the “established” risk factors. As she questions what may have caused her cancer, the film focuses on three diverse breast cancer “hotspots” to explore more fully the connection between breast cancer and chemical exposure in the home, community and workplace.



The Cape Cod peninsula, known to many of its residents and summer travelers for its’ bright red cranberry bogs and heron-studded marshlands, is also known for a breast cancer rate that is 20% higher than the rest of the nation. The Silent Spring Institute has been conducting environmental research to investigate the causes of the high rate. In their study of toxins in households they found DDT in 2/3's of the homes that were sampled, despite the fact that DDT was banned in the 1970's.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a breast cancer rate 20% higher than the rest of the nation.
 Bay View Hunters Point, a primarily low-income African American community within the city of San Francisco, has the highest rate of breast cancer for women under 40 in the world. Bay View Hunters Point also has the most polluting power plant in the PG&E system, and an EPA designated superfund site; a naval shipyard with an abysmal record of disposing of radioactive and other wastes into the ground and bay waters surrounding Hunter’s Point.

Silicon Valley is home to the “clean” industry of computer manufacturing. The mostly Asian and Latina women workers using extremely toxic chemicals in the chip manufacturing process have alarmingly high rates of breast and other cancers. A group of these workers are part of an occupational health and safety lawsuit against IBM to compensate victims. The first plaintifs lost but the law suits have put pressure on the tech industry to safeguard workers who are exposed to toxic chemicals used in manufacturing.

Through these stories, Toxic Bust also raise questions about the long term health costs associated with early childhood chemical exposure and reveals the disproportionate toxic burden carried by low-income communities and workers.

Nationally recognized experts provide understanding of the most current breast cancer science. Dr. Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist for Natural Resources Defense Council, has researched breast health and chemical impacts on breast milk.  Dr. Julia Brody is principal investigator for Silent Spring Institute’s Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study. Solomon  and Brody talk about risk factors and environmental chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body and may raise the risk of cancer.  Additionally, Robert Harrison, an occupational health doctor at UCSF, and Dr. Philip Landrigan, former EPA scientist and Director of Community and Preventative Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical School, illuminate issues concerning worker health and the impacts of early childhood chemical exposure respectively. Local community activists are also featured. Ultimately, Toxic Bust challenges viewers to question how abundant chemical use in the United States may undermine the health of its citizens.
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