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Erika Wilhelm, Director of Marketing and Communications, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, 415-321-2920

Rainbow Rubin, PhD MPH, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners Director of Science, University of California, Berkeley, Environmental Health Sciences Affiliate 

San Francisco, CA—A 20-year study conducted at UCLA with over 48,000 participants found that fossil fuel-based plastic and industrial toxic chemicals in the air were highly associated with breast cancer risk, especially among women of color. Chemicals in the air used to make PVC (#3) and polystyrene (#6) plastic, neither of which are recyclable, were among the chemicals most associated with breast cancer. African American participants exposed to higher vinyl acetate were more than 11 times more likely to develop breast cancer over the study period versus White study participants, whose probability was five times higher with higher vinyl acetate exposure. Higher vinyl chloride exposure increased breast cancer probability among Japanese Americans by seven times versus an increase of two times among white women. Some of the highest breast cancer associations were at exceedingly low levels of chemical exposure, so these findings show the importance of monitoring and mitigating hazardous air pollutants, even at low levels, to prevent breast cancer. The Biden administration recently released an important new rule aimed at reducing cancer risk by industrial facilities but it only included two out of 188 hazardous air pollutants. After testing 16 of them, this study found that 14 were statistically associated with breast cancer.

Additional Information about this study

Study in a diverse population: The UCLA Air Toxics Study is important because few studies have examined breast cancer risk from air toxics among urban, diverse communities. Previous studies, such as the Sister Study, enrolled 85% White women, and the California Teachers’ Study included predominantly White women (89%) with oversampling in rural areas.

Low doses of toxic chemicals matter: Despite relatively low exposure levels to toxic chemicals, the Multiethnic Cohort Study found an increased likelihood of breast cancer with increased exposure to air toxics for vinyl acetate, 1,1,2,2 tetrachloroethane, ethylene dichloride, and vinyl chloride.

Elevated risk among all communities, especially communities of color: Communities of color had an elevated risk of breast cancer; the greatest threat was from hazardous manufacturing and waste chemicals. For example, vinyl acetate increased the likelihood of getting breast cancer by 427% (95% CI 314-573%) and by 1030% (95% CI 636-1635%) among African Americans. For several of the chemicals, there were not enough breast cancer-positive participants with low levels of chemical exposure to assess the impacts of chemical exposure.

Plastics Pollution: Vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride are used to make PVC plastic #3, the fastest-growing plastic currently produced. Plastic production is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years. Vinyl acetate used in free radical polymerization has applications, including the manufacture of polystyrene (i.e., plastic #6), which is non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, and lasts indefinitely.

Read More About the Study

For more information, contact: Erika Wilhelm, Director of Marketing and Communications, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, 415-321-2920


Breast Cancer Prevention Partners is the leading national science-based, policy and advocacy organization focused on preventing breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation. Learn more at

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