Breast cancer exposure among Windsor-Detroit border workers needs to be taken more seriously, says researcher
Workers found gas-like substance on their skin and clothing, expressed concerns with radiation exposure
Studies have shown that women working at the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel are at a 16-times greater risk for breast cancer — but it seems not much is being done to address this serious health concern.
That's why a researcher at the University of Windsor started reaching out to female workers who may have been exposed to the disease to hear their stories. Combined with existing research and studies, the doctoral candidate in sociology published an article on the environmental risk factors of working at the two border crossings.
"When it came time to do my PhD, I had become aware of a suspected cluster of breast cancers among women workers at the Ambassador Bridge," said Jane McArthur.
"I thought, given the assumption that they might have an extra set of knowledge of a workplace or environmental exposures related to breast cancer, they'd be an interesting group of women to interview to see what their their thoughts and what their knowledge was."
Of the 25 women McArthur interviewed — ranging from current and former border agents to duty free staff — some described "high levels of air pollution" during their employment at the Ambassador Bridge or the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
Their observations included dirt-like, "diesel particulate" left on their skin or clothing.
"They [also] talked about radiation — scanning the vehicles for certain commercial goods. So there is some evidence in the scientific research that shows an increased risk of breast cancer due to air pollution," said McArthur, adding that breathing problems inside booths was also a cause for concern.
McArthur added that many of the employees she interviewed faced barriers toward being able to advocate for any real change.
This includes concerns over occupational health and safety laws which, in the opinion of some of the workers interviewed, are "not stringent enough."
In other words, they struggled to determine whether the importance of their health outweighed the importance of continuing trade across the border.
We need to do a better job of regulating exposures that are confirmed or suspected to be causing breast cancer and other health problems.- University of Windsor researcher Jane McArthur
"In their experience and based on the efforts that they had tried to make through workplace changes and policies, [workers] were facing barriers because their ideas, their knowledge, their strategies were not given as high regard as economic ones," she said.
McArthur hopes the research she has gathered based on her interviews results in the issue being taken more seriously. One possible action, she said, is to launch and release to the public a formal investigation to document workers' health concerns.
"We need to do a better job of regulating exposures that are confirmed or suspected to be causing breast cancer and other health problems. I would hope that we take more seriously the risks that workers face generally in any job they're going into," she said.
"It's all coming to fruition right now in front of our eyes with COVID-19, as we see clusters of that virus in certain workforces. So I'm hoping that, as a society, we put our values into place where we recognize that we need to protect people when they go to work each day and not put them at risk just for profit."
With files from Windsor Morning