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Children play at the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind., in 2016.
Goal

Remove Toxic Chemicals and Products
From Our Daily Lives

Earthjustice works to ensure that all people have safe workplaces and neighborhoods, have access to safe drinking water and food, and live in homes that are free of hazardous chemicals.
Alyssa Schukar / The New York Times via Redux

Chemical production has increased dramatically in the U.S. over the past 40 years. And for decades, the chemical industry was subject to little government oversight.

Earthjustice and our partners successfully fought to reform our nation’s main chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

We’re now leveraging that law and others in our ongoing fight to protect communities and workers from toxic exposures, and remove hazardous, dangerous products from our daily lives.

  • We protect people’s health by pushing for strong rules to protect workers, children, and communities from pesticides and other toxic chemicals. And we challenge rules that don’t live up to the government’s obligation to keep us all safe.
  • We fight to get toxic chemicals out of consumer products, and keep chemicals that poison communities and our planet off the market altogether by taking the government to court when it approves chemicals for use without fully evaluating their harms.
  • We’re cleaning up contamination in our environment and communities, such as from exposure to lead and “forever” chemicals known as PFAS, by going to court to ensure the government follows the law.

Lax chemical regulations have led to widespread harm.

Each year, 30,000 pounds of industrial chemicals are produced for each person in the United States, and babies are born with hundreds of industrial chemicals found in their bodies.

The growing exposure to chemicals is linked to increased rates of cancer, brain damage, and declining fertility.

Highly polluted communities, and workers and children are most vulnerable to harm.

The health effects of toxic chemicals disproportionately impact communities near industrial facilities where these chemicals are manufactured.

One such place is Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” a petrochemical hub where residents of this predominantly Black community are more than 50 times more likely to get cancer than the average American.

Children are especially vulnerable, because their brains and bodies are still developing and because they drink, eat, and breathe more for their weight in comparison to adults, exposing them to greater environmental risks.

That’s why we work to protect people at all parts of the chemical supply chain: when chemicals are produced, used, and disposed of.

Our key strategies include:

  • Ensuring the government enforces its chemicals and pesticides laws. The health risks of all chemicals must be fully evaluated to keep toxic chemicals out of our homes, schools, and workplaces, as well as out of our air and water.
  • Strengthening existing chemical laws. As a result of successful litigation brought by Earthjustice on behalf of our clients, the law now requires regulators to consider the full range of ways that people may be exposed to harmful chemicals when deciding whether to allow that chemical to remain on the market. In addition, as a result of a series of lawsuits and more than a decade of advocacy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now required to set lead hazard standards that are truly health-based.
  • Partnering with communities to clean up chemical contamination. We are fighting in court to hold the chemical industry accountable for its legacy of pollution, including working towards meaningful regulations that ensure that communities know when PFAS are released near where they live, work, or go to school; medical monitoring for communities exposed to high levels of PFAS; prohibition of incineration of PFAS waste unless careful environmental review concludes that it is safe; and stopping the approval of new PFAS compounds.
  • Suing to force chemical companies to disclose health and safety information about the chemicals they produce. We go to court to challenge policies that permit illegal secrecy, and we expose the hidden health risks of chemicals, an important step to make sure the government enforces its laws.

Learn more about this work through our Toxic Exposure & Health Program, Sustainable Food & Farming Program, and Policy and Legislation Team, our regionally-based work in the Florida Office, Mid-Pacific Office, Midwest Office, Northwest Office, and more.

Protecting Farmworkers From Pesticides: Case in Point

Farmworkers perform some of the most physically demanding labor in any economic sector. They are also among the least protected from job hazards and have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among all U.S. workers. Every year, as many as 20,000 agricultural workers are diagnosed with pesticide poisoning

The immediate aftermath of acute pesticide poisoning can result in rashes, vomiting, and death. In the long-term, pesticide exposure has been associated with increased risk of cancers, infertility, neurological disorders, and respiratory conditions.

The Agricultural Worker Protection Standard is the only federal rule protecting people from occupational pesticide exposure and poisonings. Adopted in 1992, the standard was notoriously weak and difficult to enforce.

Despite the risk to farmworkers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had stalled on enacting stronger protections for farmworkers for nearly two decades. In 2011, Earthjustice filed a legal petition to force the EPA to update the standard, followed by policy meetings with agency officials.

This set of safeguards was finally strengthened in 2015 — the result of more than 15 years of advocacy and stakeholder deliberations. It gave farmworkers health protections that employees in other industries have enjoyed for decades. Earthjustice was honored to partner with dozens of worker advocate and justice organizations in this work.

The Trump administration threatened in 2017 to reverse some of these hard-fought protections. Earthjustice prompted Congress to prohibit EPA from reversing all but one of these rules in 2019, maintaining protections for an estimated 2.5 million farmworkers. After the Trump administration rolled back the one rule that Congress did not protect — a rule that protects workers and their families from being sprayed with pesticides — we sued on behalf of farmworker organizations and won an immediate injunction preventing the rollback from going into effect.

Earthjustice will continue to work with farmworker advocates to ensure that the new standards result in meaningful change on the ground, as well as continue to target the most hazardous pesticides used in the field.

Learn more about Earthjustice’s litigation work that successfully protected workers and consumers from some of the most dangerous pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, vinclozolin, and methyl iodide, and our ongoing work to mitigate human and environmental exposure to all organophosphate pesticides.