Protecting workers protects the environment: The link between occupational health and the environment
People used to think that emissions from toxic chemicals and manufacturing processes were a local problem that just affected those inside that workplace. Now we know that occupational health and environmental health go hand in hand. Toxic chemicals and hazardous waste don’t just affect workers. They affect communities and the environment far from their origin.
Tens of thousands of chemicals are used around this country every day, many last thousands of years before it breaks down in a landfill or in the ocean while some are virtually indestructible. We now know that we have to consider the entire life cycle of chemicals to identify their hazards: from manufacturing, to storage, to use, and finally disposal. Workers are exposed to chemicals during the manufacturing and transport of products. The public may be exposed to these same chemicals during a product’s use or transport. And finally, those chemicals will pollute our air, water and soil after the product is thrown away by leaching out of landfills or being released as emissions from incineration or other waste management processes.
Billions of pounds of toxic chemicals are released into the environment each year. Most releases are during normal and routine operations, but some large releases happen during accidents that kill and injure workers. We could reduce the amount going into our environment by reducing the use of toxic chemicals and switching to safer alternatives closer to the beginning of the life cycle: manufacturing. This would protect workers, the public and the environment throughout the life of a chemical.