Article Author: Lauren Crowley, Public Health Major, Class of 2022, POB Science Translator 

Breast cancer has the highest mortality rate among all cancers affecting women, and an incidence rate that has increased in recent years. Despite these concerning statistics,  many people are unaware of how racial identity intersects with health outcomes. African American women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than any other race, and are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with Triple- Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC): a very aggressive breast cancer with no known treatment.

In a recent study, scientists examined samples of African American women’s DNA, searching for genetic indicators that may suggest that African American women are significantly genetically more vulnerable to developing breast cancer. However the results concluded that the slight differences in genetic material between women of different racial identities do not account for the vast difference in the number of breast cancer cases and deaths among African American women, thus raising the question: what is responsible?

Disproportionate chemical exposures may play a significant role in this previously unexplained health disparity. Research findings published in the Journal of Toxicology indicate that non-hispanic African American women have significantly higher concentrations of carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) in their blood and urine as compared to White non-hispanic women (Polemi et al. 2021). In fact, African American women had up to 300% greater concentrations of the probable carcinogen, 2,5-Dichlorophenol, in their bodies than non-hispanic White women. Additional carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as 1,4-Dichlorobenzene, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, and Bisphenol S, among others, were also found in higher concentrations in the blood and urine of non-hispanic African American women than non-hispanic White women. (Polemi et al. 2021)

Table 1. Chemicals of Concern & Routes of Exposure

Chemical Name: What is it? Where is it found?
  • Carcinogen
  • EDC
  • Pesticides
  • Moth balls 
  • Room deodorizers 
  • Dyes 
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
  • Carcinogen
  • Possible EDC
  • Room deodorizers 
  • Controls mold in furniture
  • Fruit insecticide 
  • Carcinogen 
  • EDC
  • Makeup 
  • Shaving products 
  • Hair care products 
  • Moisturizers 
  • Deodorants 
  • EDC
  • Cosmetics 
  • Pharmaceuticals 
  • Some foods
Bisphenol S (BPS)
  • Carcinogen 
  • EDC
  • Plastic packaging (recycling code #7) 


Knowledge is the first step to protecting yourself and your loved ones from toxic chemical exposures. Making simple swaps can make a huge difference in avoiding chemicals of concern. While avoiding these chemicals that are widespread in the environment may seem like a daunting task- resources such as the EWG Consumer Guides do the work for you. 

While race doesn’t entirely determine breast health genetically, there is evidence that African American women are disproportionately exposed to chemicals that may harm their breast health. This health disparity stems from other inequities (health education, housing & access to organic food) that are ultimately rooted in systemic racism. While one person may not be able to erase systemic racism, we have the ability to educate ourselves and others. The more awareness brought to disparities affecting women’s reproductive health, the more people we protect and empower. 



Katelyn M. Polemi, Vy K. Nguyen, Julien Heidt, Adam Kahana, Olivier Jolliet, Justin A. Colacino, Identifying the link between chemical exposures and breast cancer in African American women via integrated in vitro and exposure biomarker data, Toxicology,

Volume 463, 2021, 152964, ISSN 0300-483X,




Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites. POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.

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