Oct 8 6:54 PM

For $100,000, Susan G. Komen does its bit

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but is this the kind of awareness the disease needs?

Baker Hughes, Inc., a century-old, Texas-based oilfield services company, released this picture (featured in a tweet by the Marcellus Shale Coalition):

Screen grab of a tweet from the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
via Twitter

For the second consecutive year, Baker Hughes is donating $100,000 to support Susan G. Komen®, the world’s leading breast cancer organization. The year-long partnership with Komen is an extension of the company’s participation each year in the Komen Houston Race for the Cure, where Baker Hughes sponsor’s the Survivor Pin Celebration.

This year, the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide. The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening, and education to help find the cures for this disease, which claims a life every 60 seconds.

The pink you see on those bits is not just any can of Pepto-Bismol-tinted latex — that is the official trademarked shade of pink licensed for use by the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which funds Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a charity with the stated mission of “sav[ing] lives and end[ing] breast cancer forever.”

Baker Hughes, which, as mentioned, paid 100 grand for the right to use that particular pink, is a leader in the kinds of equipment used in hydraulic fracturing, the field-drilling innovation that has turned the U.S. into the world’s oil and gas production leader.

It has also dramatically ramped up the levels of benzene in and around fracked wells.

Benzene is a known carcinogen. So are about two-dozen other elements that turn up in fracking waste. Workers at fracking sites have shown elevated levels of benzene in their systems; so have people who live in close proximity to natural gas and oil fields.

And benzene exposure is documented to increase the risk of several malignancies, including breast cancer.

The irony writes itself. But for Komen, this kind of conflict and controversy has become pretty much standard operating procedure.

In 2010, Susan G. Komen took money from KFC, the finger-lickin’ fatty food fryer, so that the chicken chain could print pink ribbons on food containers in its “Buckets for the Cure” promotion. KFC pledged 50 cents to Komen for every bucket of fried chicken sold, a deal that eventually netted the charity $8.5 million.

Women’s health advocacy and cancer awareness groups thought Komen had laid an egg. High-calorie, high-fat diets significantly contribute to increased breast cancer risk. Komen’s own site (as noted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy) quotes studies showing higher cancer rates for women who add 20-or-more pounds after age 18.

Scott Henderson, a consultant who specializes in cause-related marketing, wrote at the time:

While many in the cause sector might focus their outrage or contempt on KFC for this [buckets promotion], the same scrutiny needs to be put on Susan G. Komen for the Cure. How much is that $8.5 million worth to the cause, knowing the health damage these pink buckets will cause?

Then there was the time Komen partnered with Yoplait, only to have it revealed that the company’s yoghurt contained Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, which, you guessed it, has been linked to certain types of cancer. (Yoplait has since removed rBGH from its products.)

But in 2012, Komen found itself in the center of an even bigger firestorm. Following the appointment of former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel — a conservative Republican who was (and still is) vocal in her opposition to abortion rights — as a senior vice president, Susan G. Komen cut off longstanding financial support for breast cancer screening programs run by Planned Parenthood. Komen spox argued this was because of a policy revision, but internal emails soon surfaced showing this decision was driven by Handel and directed specifically at Planned Parenthood because they also provided abortion services. (Handel was noticed early in her political career voting to grant public money to an Atlanta Planned Parenthood chapter; she was excoriated by the right and never made that mistake again.)

Reaction was swift. As critics noted, in lieu of a cure, the best chance of surviving breast cancer is afforded by early detection through regular screening. Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood raised the possibility of eliminating that screening for thousands of women, many dependent on Planned Parenthood for low- or no-cost health services.

Grassroots groups and U.S. Senators came out against Komen’s politicization of the pink ribbon. Within a week of the initial decision, Handel stepped down, and by spring, Komen restored funding to Planned Parenthood.

But the damage was done: 2012 was a terrible fundraising year for the charity. Enrollment in their annual “Race for the Cure” events that year was off 40 percent.

So, it certainly helps Komen’s coffers that they discovered the annual six-figure contribution from Baker Hughes in 2013. But given the potential damage done to women’s health (not to mention the environment) by the expansion of fracking — pretty much the Baker Hughes business plan — it is an open question if (Susan G. Komen for) the Cure is worse than the disease.

* * *

Instant update time! The International Business Times asked Komen about the pink-washing of Baker Hughes. The charity replied, “The evidence to this point does not establish a connection between fracking and breast cancer.”

Really? The response from Big Pink was not that the campaign was spreading breast cancer awareness to communities not typically reached by Komen, or that the donation garnered in exchange for a bunch of drill bits soon to be buried deep in the earth would do plenty of good somewhere above ground? Instead, one of the nation’s biggest breast cancer charities is challenging the science and weighing in on the side of the polluter?

Again: really?

Let the record show that for $100,000, this cancer charity will go to bat for a carcinogen. Color even cynical me gobsmacked. 

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