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Komen acceptance of drilling-linked money raises ire

| Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Dana Dolney, left, director and co-founder of Friends of the Harmed, and Karuna Jaggar, right, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, speak to Kathy Purcell, executive director of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Pittsburgh affiliate, after delivering petitions to the Susan G. Komen office in Pittsburgh urging the group to cut their ties with the fracking industry on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.

In the race to raise awareness and find a cure for breast cancer, there is division among advocates.

Supporters of Breast Cancer Action are protesting the decision of fellow breast cancer awareness group, Susan G. Komen, to accept a $100,000 donation from Baker Hughes, the Houston-based supplier of equipment for the oil and gas drilling industry.

Baker Hughes CEO Martin Craighead is scheduled to present the check to Susan G. Komen founder Nancy Brinker at the Steelers game at Heinz Field on Sunday.

On Friday, protesters delivered what they said were 150,000 signatures on a petition to Komen's Pittsburgh offices urging it to turn down the money. A rally is planned Sunday outside Heinz Field.

“I have every hope ... that Komen will respond to public pressure,” Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action's executive director, said.

Kathy Purcell, CEO of the local Komen branch, said the donation was a national initiative and declined to comment further. National representatives did not return calls or emails.

Baker Hughes did not respond to calls. In a statement this month, Craighead said he has been impacted personally by the disease.

“I understand the importance of Komen's ongoing research, education, support services and global programs, not only to those fighting the disease, but also to their loved ones, friends, and colleagues,” he said.

Baker Hughes also painted drill bits it supplies to shale gas drillers pink for the second year to raise awareness for breast cancer. The company distributed 1,000 pink drill bits this year, and 500 last year.

Shobita Parthasarathy, a professor at the University of Michigan, who serves on the board of Breast Cancer Action based in San Francisco, said pink already is ubiquitous with breast cancer awareness. Painting drill bits pink ultimately trivializes breast cancer, she said.

“We don't want to focus on the fact that it is hard and ugly and devastating and women are dying of the disease, and, disproportionately, women of color are dying of the disease,” Parthasarathy said.

Breast Cancer Action, New Voices Pittsburgh, advocacy groups for women of color, and other local groups say the partnership between Komen and Baker Hughes is unnatural because chemicals used in fracking contribute to cancer. The research does not provide a consensus.

But perception matters most, said Christopher Olivola, assistant professor of marketing at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.

“From the charity's point of view, if the brand is going to be hurt a lot, then the costs are going to outweigh the gains,” he said.

Komen angered some breast cancer awareness groups last year when it temporarily suspended funding for Planned Parenthood. The NFL's support of breast cancer research also has come under scrutiny from women's advocates as it deals with the fallout of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal.

Katelyn Ferral is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or

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