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When I was 13, my grandmother died of breast cancer. She was 59, a beloved high school English teacher with impeccable style and youthful energy. Through the years of her illness, I watched cancer steal everything. 

What American family hasn’t been touched by cancer? It stalks our middle years, and it occasionally snatches entire childhoods. And while Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a healthy reminder that I am now 40, and I need to schedule my first mammogram, I prefer to see it as a call to action. We should be talking about preventing cancer, too.

What do I mean by cancer prevention? I mean taking on the toxic soup of unregulated chemicals dousing so many of the products I interact with every day. I mean car seats for my two young children that aren’t covered in toxic substances. I mean condiments and body care products that aren’t stored in plastic containers that accidentally contain cancer-causing PFOA. (Oops?) I mean firefighter turnout gear that doesn’t make firefighters sick. I mean carpets that aren’t treated with PFAS. I mean ending the racist practice of sacrificing environmental justice communities to manufacture synthetic chemicals and products.

Clean Water Action, alongside our friends and allies like Safer States, are pushing for a world where we don’t unleash untested chemicals on the public only to struggle to rein them in when they cause harm. Here in New England, we are working on the state level for legislation to prevent exposure to toxic substances. In Massachusetts, we are fighting to require manufacturers to disclose toxic chemicals used in children’s products and ban the worst substances, and we are pushing to ban toxic PFAS in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. We are inspired by community leaders and our Clean Water Action team in Minnesota who recently helped pass the nation’s strongest PFAS regulations through Amara's Law.

This work is part of a wider effort to pull back the curtain on the impact of toxics from manufacture to disposal. Grassroots organizers in Louisiana's “Cancer Alley” are taking on the chemical and fossil fuel companies poisoning their neighborhoods. And neighbors in Taunton, MA are fighting a proposed sludge incinerator in their already overburdened community due to real concerns that PFAS in sludge will be released into the air they breathe. Before and after toxics hit store shelves, they are causing harm.

We don’t have to accept rising rates of cancer in young Americans as an inevitability. And I don’t have to accept that a mammogram is my only tool to fight breast cancer. Let’s take on cancer at its source. Let’s fight for a healthy future for everyone.