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Breast cancer and Brexit: discuss

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Brexit, EU regulations, REACH, breast cancer, event, Given the ever rising rates, why is there such reluctance by all concerned to act?

The chances are you’ll never have thought about breast cancer prevention in relation to Brexit.

Yet they are linked.

For example, our – now clean – beaches and seas benefit from progressive EU legislation.

Our health as citizens, consumers and workers most certainly has done and continues to.

The European chemicals regulation (REACH) is a highly sophisticated, progressive pan-EU system to control toxic chemicals and, though not perfect, is the best in the world.

At its heart is ‘the precautionary principle’, which means to take action to prevent harm, even if there is uncertainty.

For the UK to be de-coupled from REACH would have a devastating impact on many aspects of consumer, workplace and environmental health and our economic wellbeing.

REACH, or EC 1907/2006, aims to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances.

This is done by the four processes of REACH, namely the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals.

REACH also aims to enhance innovation and competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry.

And with its “No data no market” approach, the REACH Regulation places responsibility on industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances.

Manufacturers and importers are required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substances, which will allow their safe handling, and to register the information in a central database in the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki.

The European Chemicals Agency is the central point in the REACH system: it manages the databases necessary to operate the system, co-ordinates the in-depth evaluation of suspicious chemicals and is building up a public database in which consumers and professionals can find hazard information.

The REACH Regulation also calls for the progressive substitution of the most dangerous chemicals (referred to as “substances of very high concern”) when suitable alternatives have been identified.

One of the main reasons for developing and adopting the REACH Regulation was that a large number of substances have been manufactured and placed on the market in Europe for many years, sometimes in very high amounts, and yet there is insufficient information on the hazards that they pose to human health and the environment.

There is a need to fill these information gaps to ensure that industry is able to assess hazards and risks of the substances, and to identify and implement the risk management measures to protect humans and the environment.

REACH provisions entered into force in 2007 and are being phased in over 11 years.

Women benefit from this EU regulation via the protection REACH offers to our health in preventing exposures to chemicals linked to breast and other cancers along with health and safety legislation in the workplace.

These exposures happen in the home, workplace and wider environment and are present from pre-birth throughout our entire lives.

Given that no cancer strategy in England addresses the environmental and occupational risk factors for breast cancer, there has been an almost doubling of breast cancer cases since the 1970s.

This increase is not accounted for by ‘lifestyle risk factors’ (smoking, alcohol and weight): they account for 30-50 per cent of breast cancer cases.

Since 50 per cent of cases have no known cause, to ignore the scientific evidence linking environmental and occupational exposures, especially in the workplace, is highly negligent.

Six years ago the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for governments to include environmental and occupational prevention measures as part of all national cancer plans.

Additionally, the American Public Health Association called for the links between breast cancer and certain chemical exposures to be acknowledged by their government.

Given the ever rising rates, why is there such reluctance by all concerned to act?

For 60 years evidence linking these risks to breast cancer has increased: why are we still waiting?

Worker’s rights and health and safety will be severely threatened post-Brexit.

If businesses see a commercial opportunity in cutting what they regard as ‘red tape’ and ‘burdensome’ – the health and safety standards which currently serve to protect workers – thousands of people will be adversely affected.

Rolling back from these EU standards will have devastating effects on breast cancer prevention.

If the regulation of toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer is be ‘traded away’ on the back of an increased bottom line, women and their families will suffer.

We cannot afford – either morally or economically – increasing numbers of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

This number has risen from 1 in 12 in the 1990s to 1 in 8 in 2017.

In post-Brexit Britain, we must do all we can to ensure we remain under the progressive EU chemicals legislation – for the sake of our health, our workplaces and our environment.

As we come to the end of Breast Cancer Prevention Month, campaigners are going to be asking the question ‘what are the implications for breast cancer after Brexit?’ and exploring the answers at Breast Cancer Prevention Month event hosted by Helen Hayes MP on 26 October from 11am – 1pm, in the Attlee Room, Portcullis House.

Speakers include: Helen Hayes MP; Zarin Hainsworth OBE, Chair of NAWO; Helen Lynn, From Pink to Prevention; Hilda Palmer, Hazards Campaign; and Nick Mole, Policy Office Pesticide Action Network UK.

Come along.

Click here for your official invitation.

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