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Komen and the Pinkwashed Drill Bit: Fracking “For the Cure”

(Image: Cancer awareness, Drill bit via Shutterstock; Edited: EL / TO)

Two years ago, the breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure came desperately close to exploding itself when it announced that it was cancelling its grants to Planned Parenthood for mammograms and other medical procedures vital to women’s health. All over the country, women raised seven shades of scalding Hell over Komen’s backward priorities, and the organization took a fierce fundraising hit from which it is still attempting to recover.

Flash forward to this week, right in the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Komen has once again stepped on a land mine it planted in its own path. In a PR move worthy of The Onion, it was announced this week that Komen has teamed up with Baker Hughes, one of the largest fracking concerns in the country, to paint 1,000 fracking drill bits pink in an effort they claimed will “serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening, and education to help find the cures for this disease.”

They’ve called it “Doing Our Bit for the Cure.” No, really.

The response was immediate and ferocious. The organization Breast Cancer Action denounced the Komen/Baker Hughes drill bit collaboration as “pinkwashing,” a term they originally coined which is defined as, “A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.”

“We are outraged that as the largest breast cancer organization in the world, you are partnering with a fracking corporation that is poisoning our health,” continued Breast Cancer action in a statement. “Pink drill bits are a pinkwashing publicity stunt. Fracking is a toxic process – at least 25% of the more than 700 chemicals used in fracking are linked to cancer. By taking money from these companies and giving them permission to use your name, you are complicit in a practice that endangers women’s health. You have created a perfect profit cycle whereby Baker Hughes contributes to causing the very disease you raise money to cure. This is unacceptable to us. Our health is not for sale.”

Note well that second sentence to fully encompass the bottomless cynicism of this Komen/fracking partnership, especially in regard to pink-painted fracking drill bits. As stated, a full quarter of the chemicals used in the fracking process have been linked to cancer. The gruesome reality of Komen’s “Bit for the Cure” campaign also comes amid revelations that California’s aquifers have been poisoned by billions of gallons of fracking wastewater:

Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity. The wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants. The documents also reveal that Central Valley Water Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates – contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater – in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.

Thallium is an extremely toxic chemical commonly used in rat poison. Arsenic is a toxic chemical that can cause cancer. Some studies show that even low-level exposure to arsenic in drinking water can compromise the immune system’s ability to fight illness. “Arsenic and thallium are extremely dangerous chemicals,” said Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands. “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”

While the current extent of contamination is cause for grave concern, the long-term threat posed by the unlawful wastewater disposal may be even more devastating. Benzene, toluene and other harmful chemicals used in fracking fluid are routinely found in flowback water coming out of oil wells in California, often at levels hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe, and this flowback fluid is sent to wastewater disposal wells. Underground migration of chemicals like benzene can take years.

California is enduring a drought of historic proportions, and billions of gallons of precious water have already been used in the fracking process, often in the most drought-stricken areas of the state. Now we learn the very water used in fracking has been vomited into California’s shrinking water supply. If Breast Cancer Action’s numbers are correct, and 25% of the chemicals used in fracking are known to cause cancer, an astonishing number of Californians have been put at risk.

Thanks, fracking. Doing your bit, indeed.

One wonders who is in charge of Komen’s public relations department these days. There is a saying that an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually re-create the works of Shakespeare. By the same token, an infinite number of monkeys banging away on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually come up with a marketing strategy as catastrophically ugly as this. Komen didn’t need the monkeys; they did it all by themselves.

Komen, of course, reacted to the criticism by claiming, “The evidence to this point does not establish a connection between fracking and breast cancer.” The same dodge was successfully deployed by the tobacco companies for decades. Next up: pink cigarettes, brought to you by Komen and Phillip Morris. “Let’s Help Breast Cancer Go Up in Smoke!”

I really wish I was trying to be funny. At this point, nothing would surprise me.

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