Greenwash of the Month: Breast Cancer Prevention and Fracking Chemicals Don’t Mix

It’s breast cancer awareness month, and we’ve found a bad case of pinkwashing.  For the past two years, Chesapeake Energy Corp., a Marcellus Shale gas-drilling company, has been participating in the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition’s (PBCC) annual “Take a Swing Against Breast Cancer” home-run baseball derby.

Chesapeake Energy reported more than $25 million in charitable giving in 2010, and Matt Sheppard, Chesapeake’s senior director for corporate development and government affairs stated that his company “strongly supports the work of the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and invite our more thoughtful neighbors in Pennsylvania to join us in fighting a true health risk.”

Speaking of “true health risks,” a Congressional inquiry found that natural gas companies like Chesapeake Energy injected millions of gallons of hydrofracking fluid containing hazardous or cancer-causing chemicalsinto the ground between 2005 and 2009.

It seems the definition of a greenwash for an organization that fights breast cancer—especially one that emphasizes health and disease prevention—to accept money from a company that exposes people to the very chemicals that cause breast cancer and other cancers every year.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and professor who appeared for a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania during this time, critiqued the connection between Chesapeake Energy and PBCC, pointing out the importance of cancer-prevention by reduction of exposure to carcinogenic-chemicals. As she told Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now,  “I’m concerned that, as a biologist, when we haven’t done the studies, the wrong implication is that there is no evidence for harm. But we haven’t ever looked before…we have never blown up the bedrock beneath our feet and sent methane into our drinking water before. This is an unprecedented situation.”

Of course, energy companies like Chesapeake love giving to popular causes like breast cancer “prevention” because of the positive, charitable reputation it gives them.  PPBC’s website caters to this desire of companies to be seen as socially conscious in their blog article, “Can Your Business Help Take A Swing Against Breast Cancer?”  The article details the advantages of becoming a company sponsor of their Baseball Derby stating, “The promotional and marketing opportunities are well worth the cost!  Plus, your company will be seen in a positive light by linking with the PBCC, a non-profit breast cancer organization.”

But let’s face it—you can’t stay healthy and prevent breast cancer without a healthy environment.  And a healthy environment does not include soil and water that has been contaminated by toxic fracking chemicals.  Because eliminating breast cancer means eliminating exposure to toxics – not dumping them in the ground and hoping for the best.