The Cancer Free Economy Network

We believe the water we drink, the air we breathe, the places we work, and the products we use everyday should not make us sick.

Yet, scientists are increasingly learning how chemicals used in our workplaces and put into our homes, food, products and environment cause cancer and other chronic diseases. While we work on finding a cure, we can act now to prevent cancers by replacing the most harmful chemicals with materials that are safer for us and our loved ones.

That’s where the Cancer Free Economy Network comes in. We seek solutions that are broader and deeper than what we as individuals or organizations can accomplish by working in isolation. Together, we can move beyond small, incremental changes to transform the underlying mindsets and incentives that will encourage people to produce and use chemicals that do not make anyone, anywhere sick.

About Us

The Cancer Free Economy Network is cultivating a movement to prevent people from developing cancer from harmful chemicals in the places they live and work. We focus on cancer because so many people are impacted by it; because too little attention has been paid to the soup of carcinogens we are exposed to every day; and because developing safer chemicals and products holds great promise for reversing rising rates of devastating cancers and many other diseases. We have come together from many different sectors, communities and fields of work, to pursue an audacious goal:

Within a generation, we will lift the human burden of cancers and other diseases by driving a dramatic and equitable transition from toxic substances to safe and healthy alternatives.

To identify new ways to work together, we mapped the complex ecosystem of incentives that encourage the spread of dangerous and unnecessary technologies. Through a systems perspective, we created a shared understanding of how to most effectively prevent the unacceptable harms these technologies eventually cause people, communities and the environment.

We organized the network into five broad, interconnected areas:

  • Building evidence and champions among health professionals and scientists
  • Educating and mobilizing those most harmed by toxic chemicals
  • Increasing demand for — and supply of — safer materials
  • Promoting a new story about cancer and our ability to prevent it
  • Changing laws and policies that affect the use of harmful chemicals

The network is currently staffed by:

  • Debra Erenberg, Strategic Director
  • Dan Dickerman (Homewood Children’s Village), Market Shift Node co-coordinator
  • Amanda Hernandez (Silent Spring Institute), Health/Science Node Coordinator
  • Ana Martinez (Wind of the Spirit), Building Power Node Coordinator
  • Alison Poor (Clean Production Action), Market Shift Node co-coordinator

The network is currently stewarded by leaders from each working group:

  • Arturo Achila (Labor Institute), Building Power
  • Fred Brown (Forbes Fund), Market Shift
  • Marianne Engelman-Lado, Policy & Legal
  • Polly Hoppin (Lowell Center from Sustainable Production), Health Science
  • Ansje Miller (Center for Environmental Health), Policy & Legal
  • Jeanne Rizzo (Breast Cancer Prevention Partners)
  • Mark Rossi (Clean Production Action), Market Shift
  • Nse Witherspoon (Children’s Environmental Health Network), Health Science
  • Jim Young (Labor Institute), Building Power

Participating Organizations and Individuals

The Science: Chemicals and Cancer

Life and health should be in reach for all of us. Yet it is now estimated that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. In the past two decades, scientists have advanced our understanding of how toxic chemicals contribute to cancer.

Not long ago, tobacco smoke was everywhere, and smoking was encouraged. Today, fewer people smoke, and thus fewer people get smoking-related cancers. Just like we prevent lung cancer by reducing smoking rates, we can help to prevent cancers by reducing the use of carcinogens in our daily lives and reducing multiple exposures that accumulate overtime, throughout our lives. We now know there are hazardous chemicals in our homes, schools, child care, workplaces, air, water, food, and the products we use every day. And a growing body of research shows that many of these chemicals are important contributors to cancer:

  • For breast cancer alone, more than 200 chemicals have been associated with mammary gland tumors in animal studies, and about half of these are chemicals that are in air and drinking water and put in things that people use in their everyday lives.
  • Air pollutants in the workplace and general environment have been shown to increase the risk of lung, bladder, liver, breast and other tumor types.
  • Highly persistent fluorinated chemicals, which are by-products of non-stick, stain resistant and waterproof products, have been associated with testicular and kidney cancers
  • Organic solvents like benzene are potent carcinogens, causing leukemia, Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
  • Pesticide use both agriculturally and in the home has been associated with increased risk of childhood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
  • Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, yet it is still put in building materials, textile finishes, nail polishes, and hair products.
  • Widely-used flame retardants put in consumer products have been linked with cancer, as well as hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity.

This list is just the beginning. We have made great progress researching and identifying dangerous chemicals. However, there is much more work to be done. While we work on a cure for cancers, we need to act on the knowledge we have now to protect people from dangerous chemicals, and invest in technologies that are good for people’s health and the economy.


The network has developed resources to guide purchasing, research, and advocacy. For any of these resources, please contact us.

  • Messaging and Communications Guide and Trainings: How to encourage people to take action for materials that are safer for us and our families
  • Chemicals, Cancer and the Economy training curriculum – What people need to know about chemicals, cancer, and the economic incentives that encourage business leaders to use chemicals that can cause cancer, and what people can do to reduce exposures and advocate for change
  • Purchasing and procurement guides about safe disposable food ware
  • Infographics and presentations about the harms caused by fluorinated chemicals
  • Scientific fact sheets about the harms caused by:
    • Fluorinated chemicals (PFAS)
    • Flame Retardants
    • Organic Solvents
    • Pesticides
    • Air Pollution: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
    • Unreacted Monomers
    • Formaldehyde
  • A systems map: A comprehensive picture of the current system that informs strategies to reduce the incentives that encourage people and their companies to use chemicals that are making people sick, and strategies that incentivize investing in safer and healthier materials.
  • A fact sheet and annotated bibliography on the environmental and occupational contributors to bladder cancer.
  • Spokespeople available with expertise in different subjects available for interviews and to help craft relevant messages with different constituencies.


The Cancer Free Economy Network is expanding the movement to protect people from harmful chemicals, uniting advocates and scientists working on cancer, public health, fossil-fuel reduction, and economic justice.

If you believe that we can do more to prevent cancer by replacing harmful chemicals with safer materials, we invite you to join with us.

Thank you for your interest! We strive to respond to all inquiries within one week.