Greening Our Chemical Footprint

What you will find in this section

  • Greening Our Chemical Footprint – The Green Deal
  • State of the art: Three big picture medical/scientific publications
  • Great Websites
  • Reading Material

We need to green our chemical footprint by addressing the crisis of environment with the crisis of livelihood and the disproportionate way poor people carry the burden of industrial pollution at the same time. Every important non-carbon industry economist agrees there is a new industrial revolution already taking place in energy – the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy now is in windmills. The Chinese have thrown hundreds of billions of dollars at solar and other green energy manufacture. The new prosperity that creating a sustainable economy would bring, on the chemical as well as the energy fronts – would result in just those “good green jobs” we need. This way lies a livable 21st century. But we must be equally creative and pro-active on the chemical front too.

cropped-peeling.pngGraphic: Integrated Health

“98% of chemicals on the market never tested for safety. 287  industrial chemicals and pollutants found in U.S. newborns. 30% increase in teen cancer since the 1970s.” – Lowell Center for Sustainable  Production, University of Massachusetts

The goal in a sentence:  radically green our chemical footprint by regulating and banning harmful chemicals and substituting benign ones, which we can often do; or by substituting different ways of doing things, for example, organic farming, for chemical pesticide-dependent farming.

We need to do this in order to save the health and viability of our envelope of life and our own species itself from the corroding effects of today’s brown chemistry industries and their results in industrial pollution and consumer products that affect us all, and our children most 

You don’t need to take my word for it, there’s so much information available today. One quick way to get an overview is to watch the documentary film, The Human Experiment, produced and narrated by Sean Penn. Viewing Chemerical,, a trip through the toxic chemicals in most people’s homes by filmmaker Andrew Nisker, is also an eye-opener.


You may want to get reading after that, or maybe you’re ready to leap in now. If you’re new to the issue, two very accessible books you may want to check out are The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being by Nena Baker and the very engaging and informative Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.

To do this we – and in the first instance, our elected representatives who guide the various ships of state – have to change thinking, shift paradigms, look at the world in a different way. These twinned objectives – livelihood and environment – must inform how economic development is pursued, how laws and public policy are formulated – absolutely on chemical manufacture and use – on how to build infrastructure and use incentives and disincentives in subsidies, how to understand and act to protect public health, in how to educate for and practice medicine and provide health care.

How do we do green our chemical footprint? By addressing the twin crisis of environment and livelihood – the other great crisis of our time – together.

Because climate change and ocean destruction are proceeding at such dangerous speed, emergency measures to save the envelope of life that is our biosphere must be taken very soon. To that end, I recommend that every single person learn about and support in every way possible the Half Earth project, which seeks to set aside 50 per cent of the planet’s surface for nature and wildlife. The idea is that without this much, the ecosystem of the biosphere will collapse, and we will find ourselves without oxygen and the conditions to sustain ourselves.

Then, we need to make some massive paradigm shifts in human life, too.

Every important non-carbon industry-affiliated economist agrees there is a new industrial revolution already taking place in energy – the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy now is in windmills. The Chinese have thrown hundreds of billions of dollars at solar and other green energy manufacture, and sustainable energy is the economic wave of the future. The new prosperity that creating a sustainable economy would bring, on the chemical as well as the energy fronts – must now come just as sharply into focus. This, too, would result in those “good green jobs” we need. This way lies a livable 21st century.

In the years of the Great Depression, the United States adopted the New Deal – an overarching, multi-faceted plan to mobilize the power of government, through the taxation and distribution powers of government, to build critical infrastructure, support enterprise and promote social projects and services that would cohere, support and revive American society and the American economy. Many other countries took this Keynsian approach too.

The Alternatives Are Here

People ask all the time, “but do we have the technology?” And the answer to that is, YES. Drop in and visit these websites, see how far we’ve come, see who’s doing the work, and see who’s coming on board.

ChemHAT  The Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox . ChemHAT “is an internet database designed to offer up easy to use information that we can use to protect ourselves, our families and our co-workers against the harm that chemicals can cause. …  Instead of what engineering controls and personal protective equipment do I need to lower the levels of exposure to a “safe” level, ChemHAT is being designed to answer the question, “Is there a way to get this job done without using dangerous chemicals? We know from stories of substitution and elimination that already exist, that the answer can be yes.”

Lowell Center for Sustainable Production. University of Massachusetss at Lowell

Clean Production Action. “Simplifies the complexity of managing hazardous chemicals through tools and collaborations.”

Pharos. “Evaluating building products and components”        

Today, we need the same overarching vision and mobilization; but today, it needs to turn toward environment as well as jobs. Former Vice President Al Gore has proposed a Global Marshall Plan, so the global North can assist the global South to transition to clean energy. And we are beginning to move in the right direction on climate change – through programs based in what people are now calling “climate justice”. But we need a transformation, on more than energy, we need it on chemisty too – and toxics clean-up and ocean plastics rescue and other pressing matters related to chemicals. We’re still a century behind on policies that seek to green our chemical footprint, and integrate both energy and chemistry, while ensuring that those who work in brown industries are support in their transition to green. 

The upshot is we need a Green Deal. Check out the sidebar to see its component parts.

So, since the conception of this multifaceted, pro-active, redistributive approach must, by definition, precede its execution, all of us as citizens and as those seeking public office office need to understand the issues involved in greening our chemistry – the science, the medicine, the economics, the politics, and the alternatives. It can be done. Click here to see ten examples of companies doing it today! And read on for many resources, from websites to scholarly books, to help you believe it too.

Where to Learn More

Because there’s so much to read – studies, reports, articles, books, journalism in so many venues – what I’ve done here is to create an idiosyncratic collection of references that I have found extremely useful. And I’ve divided this information into three sections. Please be sure to scroll down for the second and third sections – they’re well below the fold.

State of the Art: a trio of accessible medical/science publications, two brand new, and a third that goes with it, that – providing you like to read stuff like this – should rock your world because of what these say on their own about the extent of adverse health effects from ubiquitous chemicals, and what they mean in relation to each other. (Jump to State of the Art)

Internet Resources: A collection of excellent websites that allow easy reading and access to lots of really important material, including scientific and popular material about which products are toxic, healthy substitutes for those, updates on regulatory and other initiatives, ongoing news on chemically-related matters of all kinds, guides to action – and much more. (Jump to Great Websites)

Mostly books: A reading list of acclaimed books for those who want to read in more depth about health impacts, corporate venality, deceit and corruption, the solutions we need to change our chemical regime. Some popular, some scholarly and scientific. All accessible. (Jump to Reading Material)

State of the art: Three big picture medical/scientific publications on adverse health effects


Hot off the press – The stunning new NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Centers Impact Report:  Protecting children’s health where they live, learn, and play, the EPA report on the impacts of industrial and consumer chemicals on children’s health, that links everyday exposures to bisphenol A (a plasticizer found in myriad goods), flame retardants (in our furniture, bedding, clothing) and in pesticides (in our food chain, golf courses, gardens and homes) with asthma, poor b​irth outcomes, ​cancer, and brain and behavioural problems​, immune dysfunction, autism spectrum disorder and obesity​. The report ​estimates the cost of environmentally related diseases in children at $76 billion a year. Read about it at and download it here.

An important 2011 studyEarly Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals/Pollution and Chronic Disease: A Scoping Review, A Report from the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the Environmental Health Institute of Canada, is also powerful, especially when combined with the EPA’s new report. This was an important piece because it showed how extensively, by 2011, correlations had been made by researchers among between certain classes of chemicals in everyday products and certain types of diseases and disorders.

Also new, and so importantThe chemical disruption of human metabolism. Stephen J. Genuis, M.D., & Edmond Kyrillos (2017) Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, ISSN: 1537-6516 (Print) 1537-6524 (Online) DOI: 10.1080/15376516.2017.1323986.

Great Websites

Environmental Defense (Canada)






Environmental Working Group (USA)




The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX)

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition (U.S.A.)

The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation

The BioScience Research Project Independent Science News


Children’s Health and the Environment

Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment (CPCHE)

Contested Illness Research Group

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)

Ecology Center (Ann Arbor)

Health Care Without Harm

Pesticides Action Network (PAN)

Physicians for Social Responsibility

Canadian Environmental Law Association

Michigan Environmental Council

Oil Sands Truth

Greenpeace Canada Greenpeace USA

Photo: Greenpeace

Sierra Club Michigan Environmental Justice Program

Anne Steinemann, Ph.D., Professor of Civil Engineering, and Chair of Sustainable Cities, University of Melbourne, Australia. Leading scientific investigator of indoor air quality, consumer product safety. Also find MCS bibliography.

Chemistry for Life: Examples of Green Chemistry

Top Green Chemistry Companies

ChemHAT  The Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox

Lowell Center for Sustainable Production

Clean Production Action


Dream Corps

A Toxic Tour of Canada’s Chemical Valley – VICE

‘Cancer Alley,’ Louisiana,

Reading Material

World-Changing Classics

Silent Spring. Rachel Carson. Houghton Mifflin. New York 1962

Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment. Sandra Steingraber.Addison-Wesley. Reading, MA 1997.

Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening our Fertility, Intelligence, and Suvival? A Scientific Detective Story. Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanowski and John Peterson Myers. Foreword by Al Gore. Penguin. New York 1997 (on endocrine disrupting properties of microdoses)

Doubt is their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. David Michaels. Oxford University Press. New York 2008

Accessible reads on everyday chemicals

The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being. Nena Baker. North Point Press/Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. New York 2008

Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health. Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. Vintage Canada. Toronto 2009

Science and the politics of adverse effects of chemicals and petrochemical production

A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice. Toban Black, Stephen D’Arcy, Tony Weiss, Joshua Kahn Russel, eds. Forward by Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben. Between The Lines Press. Toronto 2014

Amputated Lives: Coping with Chemical Sensitivities – Exxon Valdez Cleanup, Gulf War, World Trade Center Attack, Hurricane Katrina. Alison Johnson. Cumberland Press. Brunswick, ME 2009.

Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research. Thomas McGarity and Wendy E. Wagner. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA 2008

The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink. Robert Norris, MD. Harper Collins. New York 2007

Child Honouring – How to Turn This World Around. Foreword by the Dalai Lama. Edited by Raffi Cavoukian and Sharna Olfman. Praeger, hardcover 2006. Paperback 2010

Contested Illnesses: Citizens, Science and Health Social Movements. Phil Brown, Rachel-MorelloFrosch, Stephen Zavestoski, and the Contested Illness Research Group. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA 2012

Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution. Gerald Markowitiz and David Rosner. Milbank/Uninversity of California Press. Berkeley 2003 and 2013.

Diagnosis Mercury: Money, Politics & Poison. Jane Hightower MD. Island Press/Shearwater Books. Washington D.C. 2009

Endocrine Disruptors, Brain, and Behavior. Heather B. Patisaul and Scott M. Belcher. Oxford University Press 2017

Endocrine Disruption and Human Health 1st Edition. Philippa D. Darbre, ed. Elsevier/Academic Press 2015. eBook ISBN: 9780128011201 Hardcover ISBN: 9780128011393


Engineering Green Chemical Processes. Thomas F. DeRosa, Ph.D. McGraw-Hill Education. 2014. 

Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice. By Paul T. Anastas and John C. Warner, University Press. 2000. 


Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town’s Toxic Legacy. Nancy A. Nichols. Shearwater Books/The Center for Resource Economics. Washington D.C. 2008. 

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientist Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Bloomsbury Press. New Yor

Pandora’s Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy. Joe Thornton. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA 2000

Poison on Tap: How Government Failed Flint, and the Heroes Who Fought Back. The Staff of Bridge Magazine 2016.

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA. E.G. Vallianatos (20-year EPA veteran) with McKay Jenkins. Bloomsbury Press. New York 2014

When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution. Devra Davis. Basic Books, New York, 2003

The Secret History of the War on Cancer. Devra Davis. Basic Books, New York 2007

Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure In The United States. Steve Lerner. Foreword by Phil Brown. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA 2012.

Toxic Exposures: Contested Illness and the Environmental Health Movement. Phil Brown. Foreword by Lois Gibbs. Columbia University Press. New York 2007


Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical and The Toxic Century. Jack Doyle. Environmental Health Fund/Common Courage Press. Monroe, ME 2004

A popular protest banner and T-shirt emblem

A new politics for present-day environmental challenges

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Naomi Klein. Simon and Shuster. New York 2015

This Changes Everything The film: Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein. Joslyn Barnes, producer. 2015

Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. George Monbiot. Verso Books. London, 2017.

The Next World War: Tribes, Cities, Nations and Ecological Decline. Roy Woodbridge. University of Toronto Press. Toronto 2007