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Safe Chemicals, Safe Jobs

Help Make Your Workplace Safer and Healthier

Get informed about the dangers in your workplace by visiting Chemhat.org or by having an event highlighting breast cancer in the workplace using our Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work materials.

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Of the more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce in the United States, just 200 have been tested by the EPA. It’s important that workers and communities are informed about risks associated with exposure to toxic chemicals and potential harmful effects so that they can protect themselves and choose safer alternatives when possible.

The Challenge

Every year more than 4,000 workers die from workplace injuries in the United States. While most of these tragic deaths are from roadway incidents and slips and falls, chemical fires, explosions, and leaks kill workers every year. But far more chemical-related deaths occur more slowly and less visibly. According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 50,000 Americans are estimated to die prematurely every year from diseases caused by workplace exposure to toxic substances—11 times as many as those who die from occupational injuries.

And the danger of chemicals doesn’t stop at the factory gate. Families who live near chemical facilities and the families that use the products made with dangerous chemicals are also being harmed.

The laws that are meant to ensure the safety of those workers—and the safety of the people who live in communities nearby— are too weak to offer real protection. Over the last 40 years, OSHA has only been able to set regulatory limits on 16 of the estimated 80,000 chemicals in commerce. At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proven similarly incapable of regulating chemicals in commerce under the outdated and ineffective 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. In the 40 years that TSCA has been the federal law regulating industrial chemicals, EPA has required testing on 200 of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce.

The Opportunity

People need to be better informed about risks associated with exposure to toxic chemicals and potential harmful effects so that they can protect themselves and choose safer alternatives when possible.

We joined with union partners—including the United Steelworkers and the Communications Workers of America and its allies at the Healthy Building Network—to build a website where workers can go to find the possible dangers of the chemicals they work with every day. Chemhat.org, the Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox, is a internet database designed to offer up information that we can use to protect ourselves, our families and our co-workers against the harm that chemicals can cause. We also provide ChemHAT focused trainings for workers around the country.

Worldwide, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in women. Researchers have recently identified a link between workplace chemical exposures and increased breast cancer risk. The key finding of the six-year study was that young women working in the automotive plastics and food packing industry are five times more likely to have breast cancer compared to their neighbors working in other industries. Researchers found that women who worked for 10 years in the automotive, agricultural, plastics, canning, and the casino, bar, and racetrack sectors had elevated breast cancer risk. The highest risk factors—nearly 5 times higher than in the control—were for premenopausal women working in the automotive plastics and food-canning sectors.

Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work seeks to prevent breast cancer and other chronic diseases by promoting safer alternatives to the current use of dangerous chemicals. The program includes an interactive curriculum that explains the role of chemicals in breast cancer and other chronic diseases; the need for new policies that regulate chemical use; examples of what cities, states and leading companies are doing while we work for new federal protections; and how workers and their employers can join the do-it-yourself safer chemicals effort.

After the August 2012 fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California, Governor Jerry Brown initiated an effort to strengthen the state’s refinery safety regulations, known as the Process Safety Management (PSM) and the California Accidental Release Program (Cal/ARP) regulations. We are working to support the implementation of strong refinery safety regulations in California, and we are taking steps to encourage other refinery states, starting with Washington, to adopt a similar set of rules that greatly expand the power of workers to protect their health and safety and that of the surrounding community. Similar action is possible similar action at EPA, the Department of Homeland Security, and OSHA in the implementation of the President’s Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.

In 2016, Congress improved the Toxics Substances Control Act. Now, we are focused on the implementation of the law’s new provisions and working with our partners to apply TSCA’s new provisions in protecting the health and safety of workers and communities.

Finally, moving our chemical industry to safer, greener alternatives can have a positive economic impact. New market opportunities demonstrate how to reverse negative employment trends and put people to work in the chemical industry in the United States. A report released by the BlueGreen Alliance and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute estimated that if, for example, 20 percent of current production were to shift from petrochemical based plastics to bio-based plastics, 104,000 additional jobs would be created in the U.S. economy even if the output of the plastics sector remained unchanged.

The green chemistry market is projected to expand to $98.5 billion by 2020 from $2.8 billion in 2011, according to Pike Research; this expansion is expected to save U.S. industries $65.5 billion by 2020. To protect public, worker and environmental health, and to open new areas of innovation and employment, we are working to drive implementation of green chemistry across the U.S. economy.

Key Facts

27 Trilion Pounds Each year, the U.S. economy produces over 27 trillion pounds of chemicals, or about 86,000 pounds per person. By 2050, the volume of chemicals produced and consumed worldwide is expected to more than triple.

200 Over the 40 years during which the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has served as the primary federal law on industrial and commercial chemicals, the EPA has required health and environmental testing on just 200 chemicals. (Source)

10 years Researchers found that women who worked for 10 years in the automotive, agricultural, plastics, canning, and the casino, bar and racetrack sectors had a five-fold elevated risk for breast cancer compared to the general population. (Source)

104,000 If 20 percent of current production were to shift from petrochemical-based plastics to bio-based plastics, 104,000 additional jobs would be created in the U.S. economy, even if the output of the plastics sector remained unchanged. (Source)


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