The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow seeks to correct fundamental flaws in government policies that allow damage to our health and environment.
The result of these current policies is that toxic substances end up in our bodies without our knowledge or consent.
Ignoring early warning signs can result in serious illness.
The tragic histories oflead and mercury, for example, demonstrate the harm caused when government and industry do not take action to protect public health.
By contrast, acting on early warnings can prevent widespread harm, as in the case of the drug thalidomide.
Flaw #1: Potential toxins are rarely tested for safety before use.
Most chemicals, pollutants, and technologies are treated as if they were safe until proven otherwise.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that drugs be thoroughly tested before they are marketed, the government allows chemicals with equally powerful impacts on our health to be put into consumer products and released into the air and water.
Over 80,000 chemicals are licensed for use in commerce today.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that fewer than 10% of the industrial chemicals produced in the largest quantities (over one million pounds per year) have undergone even a limited set of tests to assess their health effects on humans.
Recent tests by the U.S. government have found hundreds of chemicals in the blood and urine of Americans.n stores.
While the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission frequently takes action to prevent physical safety hazards in products, chemical toxicity hazards to consumers are far less regulated.
No pre-market safety testing or approval has been required under any federal law for chemicals in cosmetics, toys, clothing, carpets or construction materials.
Products like hair spray, hair dye, pacifiers, stain repellants, glues, and children’s toys have been put on the market, only to be found, after decades of widespread use, to contain toxic compounds at unsafe levels.
Flaw #2: The government usually takes action only after harm is widespread.
Government decisions on whether to control, limit or ban a potentially damaging chemical, technology or waste product are usually a political battle between:
citizens who want health protections
manufacturers or business proponents, and
For years, polluters have argued that government must not take action to restrict the production and use of toxic chemicals until there is definitive scientific proof of a cause and effect connection between their activities and serious health or environmental harm.
But this kind of “proof” of harm is very hard to obtain with current scientific tools. The lack of scientific proof of harm is too often misinterpreted as proof of safety. When faced with uncertainty, government authorities have erred on the side of allowing harmful pollution and toxins in products. They act only after damage is widespread. We call this the “count the bodies” approach to public health protection.
Flaw #3: Certain levels of harm are accepted and allowed by government authorities.
Current environmental and chemical policies focus on establishing “acceptable” levels of harm from toxic chemicals rather than on seeking ways to prevent harm in the first place. Government regulators have set up a policy of “risk management” that includes setting standards for “acceptable risk.”
For example, the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has set a standard for environmental pollution that allows an “acceptable risk” of one “extra” cancer death for every one million people exposed to one pollutant from one source.
In the workplace, the federal government standard is that one “extra” cancer death is an “acceptable level” for every 1,000 workers who are exposed to a chemical.
Even worse, these “acceptable levels” are usually based on studies of healthy adult males—not children, older people, or others who are more physically vulnerable. In reality, everyone is exposed to many pollutants from many sources. The people who make these decisions may think of those numbers as mere statistics, but the result of their decisions is that real people are getting sick and dying.
In addition, government regulators may be required to use “cost-benefit analysis” in their decision-making. This analysis assigns a monetary value to illness and death, and compares this to the cost of pollution controls or regulations. As a result, government regulators rely on mathematical formulas that are inherently biased toward short-term business costs (which can be more easily counted) and against protecting long-term public health (where costs are neither fully known nor quantifiable). If the projected cost of pollution controls is more than the value put on saving lives and protecting public health, then the pollution is often allowed to continue.
Flaw #4: Powerful special interests obstruct government action to protect our health.
Polluting industries have conducted coordinated campaigns to promote these flawed policies and to obstruct health-protective action.
Lobbying groups for the chemical, plastics, and oil industries have great impact on government policies. In order to win legal permission from government officials to pollute, companies frequently conceal, deny and downplay the potential harm to health caused by their emissions or products.
Polluting corporations have insisted that the current policy of “acceptable risk” is necessary to support a growing economy. They take government regulators to court to block protective health and environmental policies. The delays that result place our health at risk.
Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow
c/o Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund
88 Broad Street, Lower Level
Boston, MA 02110