Modern life, modern problems.
Our modern world is filled with awe-inspiring technological advancements that enhance our lives in countless ways—from no-iron fabrics and flame-retardant couch seats to low-weight building materials and disposable medical equipment. But to make these lifestyle improvements possible, chemicals now touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives, permeating our food, water, air, and household products. Common consumer goods expose us to untold levels of toxic, potentially life-threatening chemicals. While the US Food and Drug Administration tests pesticides and pharmaceuticals before they go to market, there is no such review of most of the everyday chemicals that end up in our bodies. As a society, we must find a way to ensure that continued technological progress does not come with unintended health consequences for our families and generations to come.
The 74 million-pound gorilla
The United States manufactures or imports over 74 million pounds of chemicals and raw materials each day. And, of the 80,000 existing chemicals, less than one percent has been adequately tested for human health effects. Scientists report that this widespread exposure to toxic chemicals threatens to increase our risk of cancer, asthma, neurological impairment, and developmental disabilities such as autism and attention deficit disorders. It may even harm our ability to reproduce: excessive levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in our bodies are impacting fertility rates, including the length of time it takes – and even the ability – to conceive. Children, with their developing brains, bodies, and immune systems, are even more vulnerable to chemical risks. This threat to children’s health is clear: more and more children march to school with asthma inhalers in their backpacks, and childhood cancers continue to be the leading disease-related cause of death among children and adolescents. Even the tiniest exposures to certain chemicals, especially ones disrupting hormones, can hijack fetal development. A 2008 analysis estimates that in the US, children’s diseases related to environmental toxins in air, food, water, and living environments cost $76.6 billion in that year alone.
Solutions cannot wait.
To tackle a problem of this size, prevention is the simplest, most efficient, and often, most economical strategy. If we can prevent people from developing environment-related illnesses, we can keep them out of our costly health care system and enable them to lead healthy and productive lives. Regrettably, no sector—research, business, government, or nonprofit—has done enough to find or implement solutions. As a society, we need to harness the remarkable power of commerce to problem-solve and create incentives for a healthier economy. To rid the most toxic substances from commerce, we must tackle the status quo: most businesses are not focused on their toxic impacts. City, state, and federal governments lack political will. And, perhaps most problematic, the public has a limited understanding of both the threat and the potential solutions. But make no mistake: solutions are within our grasp. The fact is, we’ve taken on the challenge of integrating safety into modern life before: we’ve better engineered transportation to reduce crashes, reduced pathogens in our food system, and changed building codes to help people survive fires and disasters. We must be similarly deliberate in eliminating the most toxic threats in the products and processes we use every day. We are a “can do” nation. When faced with vexing challenges, we innovate. In that spirit, the Forsythia Foundation is dedicated to pragmatic problem solving that blends the best of science with the forces of supply and demand. We work with corporate investors and community leaders alike because we believe we all win with a healthier economy.
Our Problem-Solving Approach
The Forsythia Foundation—through its grant making, investments, and staff engagement—aims for a healthier population and planet by reducing the harmful chemicals in our everyday lives. We do this with a commitment to spurring and scaling pragmatic solutions. The foundation works toward this goal by engaging in three strategic areas:
- Driving the demand for safer products and living environments by supporting organizations that excel at translating science for decision makers in public policy and medicine, and at leading public awareness and action campaigns for consumers, manufacturers, and retailers
- Striving to make green chemistry the standard operating procedure, so that all materials are safer by design and are more comprehensively tested for potential human health effects
- Strengthening the field’s ability to effectively reduce toxic exposures by building organizations’ internal capacities in public outreach, policy influence, and business engagement
Bruce Lamphear at Simon Fraser University articulates Forsythia’s vision in this video explaining the importance of prevention of toxic exposures for human health.