Pennsylvania

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Not so pretty in pink? Drill bits for breast cancer spark controversy

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania's northern tier. As part of a breast cancer awareness, Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania’s northern tier.

In an effort to promote breast cancer awareness, oil and gas services company Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

A partnership between global breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen and oil and gas services company Baker Hughes has sparked a backlash. As part of an awareness campaign called Doing our Bit for the Cure Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill bits pink and sending them to its customers across the globe.

Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy organization, is criticizing the partnership as the “most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t we’ve seen all year.”

“This has taken this whole issue of ‘pinkwashing’ to new depths– quite literally.” says Angela Wall, a spokeswoman for the group.

Komen’s Facebook page is filled with similarly angry comments from the public.

“Absolutely absurd,” writes a user named Eric Ryan. “I regret every dollar I ever gave to the Susan G. Komen foundation.”

Baker Hughes did not respond to requests to comment. The drilling services company also plans to donate $100,000 to Komen at the Pittsburgh Steelers game at Heinz field on October 26th.

“There’s not an ounce in this that says [Komen cares] about women’s health,” says Wall. “Because if they did care they’d be going after fracking corporations, not getting into bed with them.”

She points to concerns about how the expansion of oil and gas development affects public health. Preliminary research from Colorado published this year showed potential health risks for babies born near natural gas wells. Another recent study showed gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene on the job.

In Pennsylvania public health advocates have called for more research. About $2 million in state funding to track and monitor public health in drilling areas was cut from oil and gas legislation in February 2012. Earlier this year, two former state Department of Health employees accused the agency of ignoring public complaints related to gas development.

In an emailed statement, Komen said Baker Hughes’ staff has supported its Houston Race for the Cure for many years, and the idea for the pink drill bits came from one of its employees:

“Baker Hughes makes a flat donation to Komen, not tied to sales of the pink drill bits or any other product. We appreciate the efforts of Baker Hughes employees to show support for women and men facing breast cancer.”

Earlier this month, Baker Hughes phased in a policy of fully disclosing all the chemicals it uses in fracking operations through website FracFocus.org.

However, as StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, transparency around fracking chemicals remains elusive, because the information in FracFocus is deliberately posted in a way that’s not machine-readable– so it can’t be easily analyzed by computer programs.

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