We are dependent on tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals that are either known to be toxic to human health and the environment or whose effects on human health and the environment are unknown. Community Action Works works to protect our neighbors from these harmful toxins through cleanup and toxic reduction initiatives.
According to the National Toxicology Program, there are over 80,000 registered chemicals in use in the US — from plastics, to building materials, to pesticides, to electronics, and more. These chemicals are not only found in the products we use at home. They are also used heavily at industrial sites, resulting in massive environmental releases and workplace exposure.
While many of these chemicals have long-term impacts, many also have acute toxicity, posing an immediate threat of poisoning, injury, or death from high levels of these chemicals.
And this is just what we know. What we don’t know may be the bigger danger, as the vast majority of the 80,000+ chemicals on the market are untested and unregulated. For example, recently the EPA encouraged scientists to reconsider a plan to ban two deadly chemicals: methylene chloride, which if found in paint strippers, and trichloroethylene, which is used in dry cleaning. Because these toxic chemicals are rubber stamped, we come across thousands of unregulated toxins everyday and are forced to face the consequences. In the system we have, we are the guinea pigs, as chemicals are innocent until proven guilty.
We live in a world of practically universal contamination and exposure to these chemicals.
Products on the market contain a vast array of
chemicals with few requirements to disclose which
chemicals are contained in which products. These
products may pose threats throughout their life
cycle, from manufacture, to use, to disposal. Eventually, these chemicals make their way into our air, water, and land — about 3.88 billion pounds released annually as of 2017.
Hazardous waste sites are places with high concentrations of this pollution. Among the worst are the 1,400 sites on the Superfund: National Priorities list. This exposure often leads to “body burdens,” or the amount of chemicals and toxins that accumulate in the human body. In fact, the average American carries dozens of industrial chemicals in their body.
Unfortunately, real world effects on health and quality of life have become commonplace. Disease clusters are notoriously controversial investigations because we are exposed to thousands of chemicals and disease-causing agents every day. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to conclusively prove that a given exposure caused a given health effect. Nevertheless, we know that these chemicals are contributing to chronic diseases and other health problems.
- Marlborough, MA: Homeowners near a Citgo gas station were shocked to find that the station spilled 2,000 gallons of gasoline underground. We teamed up with this community and helped residents engage in a budget process to raise the cleanup cap from $1.8 million to $2.8 million, reserving extra funds to help homeowners secure a full cleanup.
“Chemical America” is largely a result of a complete policy failure that assumes all chemicals are safe until proven otherwise.
In order to eliminate the threat that releases petroleum products and hazardous chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment, all hazardous waste sites should be cleaned up to the strictest level possible. In order to prevent the creation of new hazardous waste sites, toxic chemicals need to be phased out in favor of safe alternatives. Halting the manufacturing of bioaccumulative toxins decreases the amount of harmful chemicals used by industries and sold on store shelves. By adopting safer technologies, companies can reduce hazardous waste and stop exposure at the source.
Ways to Make Progress:
- Cleaner and Safer Practices: Environmentally sound and safe materials and business practices should be promoted.
- The Polluter Pays: Any and all responsible parties to pollution should pay for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. Any companies that use or handle toxic chemicals should pay a tax to fund future cleanups.
- Timelines And Precautionary Standards: The cleanup of hazardous waste sites should be as quick and as strict as possible to reduce human exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Citizen Involvement: Local residents, those most affected by toxic pollution, should be included in the cleanup process. Technical assistance grants should be made available to residents so they can have access to and interpret data and cleanup standards.
- Prioritize The Worst Sites: States should prioritize sites that pose the largest risk to public health ensure that there is adequate funding and aggressive deadlines to ensure the worst sites are cleaned up without delay.
- Permanent Cleanup Over Temporary Cleanup: When possible, toxic chemicals should be removed from our communities and permanently cleaned up rather than covered over or capped.