Healthy air should be a basic right, but all over the world, people face exposure to toxins that remain unregulated and dangerous. It’s important that the public becomes more educated about these toxins, both in the natural environment and those hidden in consumer products or construction materials within our own homes. With better awareness and education, we can reduce the health risks these toxins pose, and help change the laws that allow the presence of toxic chemicals.
Success for a Healthy Environment
Beyond Toxics has made great strides through their Air Quality Campaign, which focuses on eliminating the harmful effects of air pollution through changes in public policies. Their focus is rallying communities and creating partnerships to spark long-lasting change. One such project, Healthy Air Oregon, focuses on improving air quality, reducing air toxics and reducing greenhouse gases. Because of its extremely hazardous legacy, Beyond Toxics especially focused on getting benzene out of our air. This chemical is among the 20 most widely used in the United States, and is a natural part of gasoline. Benzene is colorless and off-gases quickly, which is how most people are exposed. Benzene has been found to cause cancer, particularly childhood leukemia and other blood cancers. By working with businesses to adopt a No Idling Policy--meaning turning off your car in parking lots, while waiting in line, etc.--the campaign helps limit the amount of pollution from our cars, while further educating the public on the health benefits of doing so.
Awareness and the Need for Action
In addition to being aware of our own potentially harmful footprint on the environment, it’s also essential to be aware of the hazardous materials used by local businesses and manufacturers. The Environmental Protection Agency created The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986 to ensure hazardous products were stored and handled correctly to reduce risks to the public health and environment. It’s still an active part of communities.
For example, the City of Eugene passed the Community Toxics Right-to-Know Ordinance allowing the public to know exactly, down to the pound, what toxic chemicals are going into the air and water.
The public’s right-to-know helps to keep businesses in check and makes it possible for regulators to do their job. Just this past summer, the Hillsboro Landfill Inc. in Oregon was fined by the DEQ for failing to properly cover waste containing asbestos.
Asbestos is a natural fiber known for its fire resistant qualities. There are six different kinds, all of which are carcinogenic, but despite its health risks, asbestos was widely used in construction, for insulation, shingles, roofing, and so on. Asbestos can even be found in average household objects, like certain hair dryers. When disturbed, asbestos fibers can be inhaled and attach to our respiratory system. Because our body can’t break down the fibers, exposure to asbestos can lead to the development of serious health risks, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Because of its known health risks, 52 countries have already banned this toxin. Sadly, the United States is not among them, despite the fact that there’s no safe level of exposure and millions of people are at risk. In June, President Obama signed The Frank R. Lautenberg Act, which amends the Toxic Substances Control Act. This new legislation can help create a path to completely ban asbestos and other toxic chemicals.
Over the next few months, the Oregon Legislature will consider requiring toxics reporting to risk based on the public’s and environmental health and to help agencies track where toxics go.
We can all have a voice in this fight to ban asbestos and to demand toxics reporting.
Here are actions you can take:
1. Please sign our online petition;
2. Contact the Oregon DEQ at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to institute full Toxics Reporting for air and water pollution.
3. Voice your support for the EPA to include asbestos on their list and move forward with the ban. Call your representatives in Congress to support the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2016, which requires the EPA to take action against asbestos.
We need to unify our voices and be proactive to ban asbestos and other hazardous toxins in our environment and homes. Great strides have been made with the help of Beyond Toxics and other organizations working with their communities to make change. Together, we can tackle the toxins that put innocent lives and our earth at risk.