Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Ridding health care of environmental injustices and toxic chemicals

Communities of color have higher exposures to toxic chemicals. We cannot expose them to more in the hospital.

We believe people already compromised from high exposures to toxic chemicals should not be exposed to additional toxics in their medical treatment.


It is, at core, an environmental justice issue. We all have a role to play to solve it.

Environmental justice is a movement that seeks equality in access to clean air, water, food, and more, not dependent upon where an individual lives: whether they're on the "right side of the tracks" or not. For our quick explainer on the EJ movement, click here.

Toxic chemicals and environmental justice

factory environmental justice

Photo by Robert Durell for EHN

Clear evidence shows that communities of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups face higher rates of health impacts from exposure to toxic chemicals such as phthalates.

These exposures can occur in any number of ways, including:

  • Employment such as cleaning or factory work that involve harsh industrial products
  • Food packaging in areas with less choice often contain more plastics that leach chemicals into food
  • Communities living next to factories or plants often have greater air and water contamination, making exposures unavoidable.

The health impacts of these environmental disadvantages have been demonstrated time and time again:

  • According to the CDC, Blacks have higher levels of phthalates than whites.
  • Greater exposures to phthalates contributes disparate adverse birth outcomes between Black mothers and infants and their white counterparts, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and fetal growth restriction.
  • Women of color face higher toxic exposures relative to white women, with increased rates of diabetes and more aggressive forms of breast and endometrial cancers.

Toxic chemicals in health care

IV bag chemicals

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

Many common medical products used today contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, notably DEHP, a reproductive and developmental toxicant and carcinogen.

  • Some medical products, such as IV bags and tubing, can contain up to 40% DEHP by weight.
Studies have demonstrated that DEHP can leach from medical devices such as IV bags into patients, often resulting in high doses of DEHP to an individual patient.
Read more: The danger of hormone-mimicking chemicals in medical devices and meds
For individuals who already face high levels of exposure to toxic chemicals, a direct pipeline of additional exposures when receiving health care is a potentially serious health issue.
DEHP-free IV containers have been available for more than 40 years, are manufactured by multiple companies, and are priced comparably to IV bags made from DEHP. But they are not in widespread use.

Take action on sustainable health care

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

In 2002, the FDA advised health care professionals to switch to DEHP-free products when treating particularly vulnerable patients. Nineteen years later, more than 60 percent of the 400+ million IV bags used in the U.S. annually still contain DEHP.

You can change that:

  • Contact the FDA to request updated rules on phthalates and other toxic chemicals in medical equipment. Have you had an adverse reaction yourself? Report that here.
  • Contact your government representatives and let them know this issue matters to you. Find their contact information here.
  • Connect with the CDC Office of Minority Health and Health Equity and express your concerns. Contact OMHHE over Twitter or LinkedIn here.
  • Ask your medical professionals what products they're using at your next appointment. Get informed, and share that knowledge (and this article) with your family and friends.

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