Print Friendly and PDF
Ridding health care of environmental injustices and toxic chemicals
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:

Become a donor
Today's top news

Paul Ehrlich: A journey through science and politics

In his new book, the famous scientist reflects on an unparalleled career on our fascinating, ever-changing planet.

From our newsroom

Just one meal of caught fish per year is a significant dose of PFAS

“These fish are incredibly contaminated.”

LISTEN: Carolyn Ramírez on forest protection

“Mature and old growth trees have been undergoing biological evolution for millennia. They’re a little bit ahead of us.”

Citizen scientists are seeing an influx of microplastics in the Ohio River

Microplastics are increasingly found in fresh water across the country. Researchers are just beginning to understand the consequences.

Health advocates push the EPA to go farther on soot standards

"For thousands of our neighbors in Allegheny County, this is not a quality of life issue, it is a life or death issue.”

Will California’s new oil and gas laws protect people from toxic pollution?

California will soon have the largest oil drilling setbacks in the U.S. Experts say other states can learn from this move.