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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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Which Way Forward for Toxics Advocacy?

Posted by Maye Thompson, PhD, RN on May 18, 2012

PSR is pleased to welcome Maye Thompson as our Guest Editor this month.

The world we live in -- our air, water, food and consumer products -- is saturated with toxic substances. Given the ubiquity of toxic substances and products, reducing human exposure to toxicants is very hard. 

PSR and our many allies in the U.S. toxics movement pursue a variety of strategies to achieve a cleaner, healthier world. These include legislation to ban harmful substances, green chemistry to provide safer alternatives, and market campaigns to insist on safer products.  While we have made progress through all of these strategies, we have also encountered obstacles in each one. We can't buy our way out of exposure; there is too much information for the public to process in their purchasing decisions, and not all that information is objective or sound. While some dangerous substances have been banned, too often they have been replaced by substances about which we know little, or that have proven to be toxic themselves. A sweeping initiative at the federal level to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the inadequate regimen which currently regulates chemicals' entry into the marketplace, is bogged down in legislative stagnation. And green chemistry, which shows so much promise, has yet to transform our purchasing habits or the environment in which we live.

As we continue to build possible solutions to our toxic dilemma, PSR is looking forward and asking where we should focus our efforts. With that in mind, we asked six environmental health experts to speculate on these questions:

  • What are the most urgent tasks facing toxics advocates today? Where are we likely to make significant progress? 
  • What are the emerging issues in toxics -- ones that may not have a high profile yet, but are likely to be important in three to five years?
  • How should we prioritize our efforts? 

We invite you to read our respondents' perspectives -- some shared, some divergent -- and see where you think the future lies.


Strong public policy and market transformations: The one-two punch for toxics reform
By Bobbi Chase Wilding, MS

Educating about the hazards of chemical to children
Philip J. Landrigan, MD MSc

We're going to continue to have a real struggle around chemical issues
Peter Orris, MD, MPH

Which way forward for toxics advocates?
Ted Schettler

The future of exposure science: New opportunities from new tools
Gina M. Solomon, MD, MPH

A healthy environment: Can we get there from here?
Carol Stroebel

Hopes (and Some Frustration) for Chemicals Policy Reform
Maye Thompson, RN, PhD

The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.


cynthia said ..

California's Proposition 65, also known as the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires businesses, including campgrounds, to post "clear and reasonable warnings" if specified chemicals exist that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, according to Debbie Sipe, president of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.

July 9, 2013
Margaret Motheral said ..

I've been increasingly ill from chemicals and dust particulates from illegal construction surrounding my home on a brownfield -long a railyard- in Philadelphia. After my first ER visit, I told the city I though there was something wrong with the soil. Later this was confirmed. But the development project was very politically connected and they started to attack me rather than address the emergency haz mat situation. I've been the target of hate crimes and homeless and increasingly ill for almost seven years now. In becoming very vocal and active and doing a lot of detective work, I have connected with many more victims of environmental injustice and political corruption. The retaliation to cover up their crimes is brutal and very dangerous. I hope this link works. It's on You Tube Toxic Philadelphia. I also did a couple of EPA testimonies, but to this day, I have not received anything but more abuse and become more and more ill. I try to educate as I can on these issues and connect with other victims to give us a voice. Thank you

October 18, 2012
Cindy Walker said ..

I am a 56 year old widow whose 30year husband died at 56 with lung cancer. We had been in the industrial construction for all that time. My 28 year old daughter has done best with health and college. She has experienced bi-polar and 2random siezures. My 25 year old is disabled after 5 hernia and reflux surgeries. I am giving information to a law firm with a class action suit against the company the provided the mesh for repair. It was reecalled the month before. She is bed bond most days with pain,migraine,chronic appendicites,migraines,retching to include blood,chronic fevers,fibro symptoms. She has had EBV at least 3 times. I am 56 with RA, COPD< and diverticulosis, not to mention complicated greif and depression. I feel very strongly that toxic exposure is so much of the cause. Before a job in Alma,Michigan, in the early 90's, we had none of these issues. I have looked up the environmental situation there and it was considered one of the most polluted off environs....Now we live day by day on social security and disability. I am aware of all the early deaths and multiple disabilities that my generation is in a crisis. Some of the worries about people living so long is not what I see. And the future is discouraging. Doctors do not have answers and are very dismisive. WE are drug seekers they act like. My youngest had goal of piloting in Airforce and paramedic work,and raising horses and training. She is a gifted rider.MY oldest has a BA is biological anthropology from Boulder and is now in Austin working and seeking to master in Austin. I have much anger withthe FDA for allowing so many toxins in this world at the expense of so many and the EPA for not protecting or even educating us in time.Now is our only chance of saving our species and our whole planet. There is no recourse for a humble disabled family getting smaller all the time. Now we are having trouble getting a MD who treats a young woman with PTSS and a lost life.As her mom and as a wife I feel such a failure. Now I am fighting over medicine, hope, anger, money, and a reason to continue. I had hospice in for my husband and Compassion and Choice(the Hemlock Society) in to talk to my daughter on the same day in Denver. She felt like doctors help you stay healthy and death should be theirs too. My concern as a mother is how to prepare my girls for tomorrow with out their parents who adored them. Please look in the mirror and know that these decisions have long term effects that shatter a life of love. Peace Cindy

October 13, 2012
Liberty Goodwin said ..

I am overwhelmed and saddened by the naivete of these very well-meaning comments. The FDA, like the USDA (Monsanto lobbyist headed), is under complete control of the chemical and other corporations. The foxes are "guarding" the henhouses. We have to do this ourselves - by education of consumers and by local action to provide healthier alternatives. There may be some hope for local governmental moves, but the Feds aren't representing us any more.

May 26, 2012
Jessie Mullen said ..

Perhaps this urgent question should be addressed by the FDA.

May 21, 2012
Bruce Eggum Wisconsin Progressive said ..

License all toxic / dangerous chemicals.Utilizing these ingredients would require description of intended use and testing to insure safety.

May 21, 2012

Comments closed.