"The continual increase in cancer cases cannot be dismissed as a statistical fluke. It is part of a greater problem; environmental illness on a global scale. We should see each new case of cancer as a 'canary in a coal mine.'… We live in a sea of chemicals. We absorb these poisons and carry them from generation to generation. Currently, more that seven hundred man-made toxins can be found in human tissues. Each new chemical and every pound of exhaust added to the atmosphere is an experiment in just how much we, and the planet, can withstand."- Dr. Mathew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet
What You Need To Know
More than 82,000 synthetic chemicals are registered for use in manufacturing and industry. Yet, only ten percent of those chemicals have been tested for their effects on human health. These chemicals are regulated under the Toxic Control Substances Act of 1976 (TCSA), but many consumer watchdog groups say that this legislation does not adequately protect human life and natural systems. TCSA allows the Environmental Protection Agency to track and regulate the chemicals used in toys, furniture, household cleaners, and other products, but little has been done to eliminate these toxins. In fact, over 62,000 chemicals were "grandfathered" into use when the TSCA became law and they have never been tested for safety. Since 1976, the EPA has only required 200 chemicals to be tested for safety, and it has banned only five of those chemicals.
Current law allows for the EPA to call for safety testing only after it discovers that a certain chemical may be harmful, whereas European standards require that chemicals be proven safe before they are approved for use. In May of 2010, the current administration released a report stating that "many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated" under TSCA and this contributes o the 41% of Americans who will get cancer at some point in their lifespan.
In April of 2010, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 was introduced into Congress. It would require safety data on all industrial chemicals now in use and give the EPA the authority to further test any substance for safety. It also has the potential to put the burden on industry to provide evidence that a chemical is safe for people and safe for the planet. As currently written, this Act also has some flaws that keep it from totally embracing what is called the Precautionary Principle – that is where a chemical would have to be proven safe before it could be considered in consumer products.
Why Is Environmental Health an Issue of Faith?
Because they cannot afford to move other places, many poor people live in the shadow of chemical plants, oil refineries, manufacturing facilities, or coal-fired power plants. In many cases, industries and mining such as mountaintop removal have moved into communities that are less affluent or do not have political clout. Air pollution from these sources affects the overall health of children and adults, causes asthma and other respiratory issues, and in some cases contributes to higher cancer rates. In a just society, all persons equally share the burden for environmental problems. For people of faith, we are called to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, to be good neighbors, and to take care of the least among us. Thus, we are called to environmental justice.
What You Can Do
- Learn about the sources of pollution in your community and join an organization that promotes healthy air, water, and soil for all members of your community.
- Invite local advocates and resource persons to come to your congregation and talk about actions you can take.
- Tell your elected officials at every level that environmental health is an issue of justice and faith and that they need to develop public policies that work towards solutions.
- Work through the local school system to promote programs for children's health.
- Make an inventory of your household products containing chemicals and switch to less toxic means for cleaning.
Links and Resources