Creating safe and healthy environments

When you think about the word “environment”, what comes to mind?

Yosemite National Park, swimming in a lake in northern Wisconsin, or a field of roaming bison?

For most people we think of the natural world when we heard the word environment, but as it turns out when we’re looking at the intersection of human health and the environment, there are many “environments” we need to protect.

Environments that can impact our children’s health:

  • The womb (our “first environment”)
  • Our homes, including the products we use and building materials
  • The places we work
  • Where we live, play and learn including: schools, neighborhoods, playgrounds and parks
  • The natural environment: wildlife, water, and air

The womb

Research shows that toxic chemicals have a unique impact to the developing fetus. A study from 2011 found that data from the Centers for Disease Control found that nearly every pregnant woman in the United States had several toxic chemicals in her body.

A recent report by the Breast Cancer Fund found bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical, is more harmful for the developing fetus than it is for children, and we already knew BPA exposure was a problem for children.

Were we live

Toxic chemicals are virtually unregulated in the U.S. and the result is that many of the products in our homes contain harmful substances. The vinyl floors children crawl on, couches, electronics, children’s toys and jewelry, have been found to contain toxic chemicals.

And not all household exposures are created equal. Many communities that are located in heavily polluted or near manufacturing facilities, face increased exposures to chemicals through air pollution, soil contamination and drinking water.

Where we work

Depending on your profession, many workers face high exposures to toxic chemicals while on the job. People working in manufacturing facilities can have high exposures to industrial chemicals, custodians and housecleaners handle toxic cleaning supplies and nail and hair salon workers inhale harmful fumes. Even those who work in office settings can face high levels of indoor air pollution from furniture, building materials etc.

Air, water and wildlife

Many of the alarm bells about toxic chemical effects comes from effects we’ve seen in wildlife populations. Research has shown toxic chemical pollution ending up in loons, deer, fish populations, just to name a few. Natural resources like the Great Lakes are also under threats from industrial and consumer waste pollution.

But there is good news in all of this bad news.

We have a major opportunity to protect our health, prevent disease by looking at ways to reduce our environmental exposures to toxic chemicals.

The leadership of health professionals like Dr. Greene and other major medical institutions gives me hope, as they call on Congress to reform our out of date laws on toxic chemicals.

The movement to put limits on toxic chemicals continues to grow. We’re making a difference.

State legislatures continue to pass laws on toxic chemicals in the absence of federal leadership. Consumers have spoken up and helped move the market towards safer products. And retailers are starting to take responsibility for the products they sell on their shelves.

So as we find ways to protect our health, let us look to protecting all environments from toxic chemicals.

Published on: December 11, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Lindsay Dahl

Lindsay Dahl is the Deputy Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families – a national coalition working to put common sense limits on toxic chemicals to protect public health from the unnecessary exposure. Dahl is a grassroots organizer, blogger, and coalition builder.

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