Season of Giving: 9 Ways To Protect Us From Toxins, Pesticides and Chemicals

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Dioxins in the air, chemicals in our food, toxic runoff in our water, pesticides in our fruits and vegetables, and dangerous chemicals in everything from our clothes to our soaps and cosmetics to our dishes and water bottles. The reality of our daily lives is that toxic chemicals are all around us all the time. But you can help make a real environmental impact by using this Season of Giving as an opportunity to give to organizations fighting for the issues you believe in, like saving us from the toxins, pesticides and chemicals of daily life.

Each week during the holidays Everyday Earthiness is posting lists of great environmental organizations that need support, including:

This week we’ll highlight some of the best organizations fighting to protect humans, ecosystems, wildlife, water and climate from toxic and chemical pollution harm.

Chemical issues

Chemicals are in most of the things around us everyday — our clothing, our carpets, the building materials of our homes and furniture, our paper, our toilet paper, our cleaning products, our skin care products, our toothpaste, our dishwasher fluid and laundry detergent, our food and our water. Chemicals emit dangerous and harmful toxins into the air we breathe — from agricultural fields treated with fertilizers or pesticides to clothing stores selling synthetic fiber clothing to rooms painted with typical wall paint or carpeted with synthetic fibers to swimming pools treated with chlorine.

Chemicals are also used heavily in industry, including solvents, dyes, cleaners, bleaches, and so on to produce the all the products and goods we have become accustomed to buying in mass quantities and cheap prices. These chemicals sometimes get dumped directly into rivers without any wastewater treatment at all. Even with treatment, the chemicals still often leach into soil, groundwater and surface water sources. People who work in industries with heavy chemical use, such as leather tanning, experience a variety of extreme illnesses and early death at dramatically higher rates than the standard population.

Chemicals used in agriculture, like pesticides and fertilizers, are perhaps the most well-known toxins in our everyday lives. Of the 1,400 pesticides registered with the EPA, 200 of them are known neurotoxins and others have been identified as carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. Limited research has yet been done on the long-term public health effects of pesticides on people and children. Pesticides and fertilizers are not only harmful to people, but also to animals, insects, plants, aquatic life and aquatic plants. Pesticides and fertilizers are disrupting ecosystems on land and in water and threatening our food chain. For example, pesticides are killing bees in mass numbers, eliminating crucial pollinators to help us grow food.

However, few pesticides have faced government regulatation for the harmful effects they have on human health and the environment. As scientific studies reveal more revelations about the dangers these chemicals pose to all kinds of organisms, corporate interests push for zero regulation. Some extremely harmful pesticides that have been banned in most developed nations are still heavily used in the United States.

The truth is that pesticides are in the foods we eat, the almost all of the water we drink and in some cases even in the air we breathe.

Many people have turned to organic food to avoid pesticides. But what most people don’t know is that organic foods are also often treated with pesticides — organic pesticides. And organic pesticides and fertilizers can be just as harmful to people and the Earth as the synthetic, chemical ones. So too can be the other chemicals in our foods, such as preservatives and dyes. One good piece of news is that organic foods tend to test for lower levels of pesticides than conventionally farmed foods. So do Fair Trade foods.

With so much evidence about the harmful effects of chemicals, and so many chemicals in our daily lives, there has been appallingly little government action in the U.S. to study and regulate them. Part of this is due to tremendous pressure and bullying from chemical-dependent corporations (yes, like Monsanto) to discredit and stall attempts by the government agencies to study the chemicals properly. Government agencies like the FDA in the are also woefully under-equipped to take on the task of researching all of the chemicals at work around us, let alone to propose regulations and enforce them. Governments in some developing nations even promote the use of harmful chemicals like pesticides over less harmful options in order to grow their country’s GDP by realizing near term efficiencies despite the long-term harm.

That’s where the following hard-working non-profits come in — to play a key role in safeguarding human health and the natural environment around the world by doing the research on chemicals, proposing safer alternatives that support viable industry, advocating for regulations to protect people and the planet, and watchdogging corporations and government to make sure the regulations are enforced.

Groups tackling toxins, chemicals and pesticides

1. Environmental Working Group – EWG’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment using their amazing team of scientists, policy experts, lawyers, communication experts and programmers to make sure someone is standing up for public health when government and industry won’t. EWG provides consumer guides for consumer products, cleaning products, sunscreens, seafood, water and food, with their own certification label of healthy products. They also provide research and advocacy around GMOs, energy, farming, toxins like endocrine disruptors and pesticides, cellphone use, water filters and children’s health. Holiday donations of $140+ receive a cool holiday gift box, so a donation doubles as a great gift. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 87.38 score / 75.9% spent on the programs and services it provides.

2. Pesticide Action Network – This group works to reduce harmful pesticide use and replace them with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives worldwide. PAN tracks bee-killing pesticides, tackles corporate control of agriculture, advocates for kids health, etc, in order to defend basic rights to health and environmental quality and to ensure the transition to a just and viable food system. Their helpful spinoff site What’s On My Food? offers is a searchable database designed to make the public problem of pesticide exposure visible and more understandable (you can search by food or by pesticide). Another spinoff site Honey Bee Haven, created together with Beyond Pesticides, offers information on how to help protect honeybees from pesticides by pledging to create safe havens for them to thrive in.

3. Beyond Pesticides – This organization uses science, policy and action to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides by identifying the risks of conventional pest management practices and promoting non-chemical and least-hazardous management alternatives in order to protect healthy air, water, land and food today and for future generations.

4. Greenpeace – “Living Toxic Free” is one of Greenpeace’s principal focuses with the aim of creating a world free from harmful toxins in our environment and in our lives by advocating for legislation to safeguard people from chemicals in products and clothing and to get safer chemicals and better safety measures in chemical manufacturing facilities. Greenpeace’s “Detox My Fashion” campaign calls out clothing manufacturers in the world’s second dirtiest industry for the harmful chemicals used to manufacture fibers, tan leather, dye material that end up in water sources, up against our skin and wafting into the air we breathe in clothing factories, stores and even in our own closets. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 88.01score / 82.6% spent on the programs and services it provides.

5. SOS-Bees – This Greenpeace-Europe initiative is aimed at saving bees, and therefore agriculture and ecosystems, by stopping the use of bee-killing pesticides, adopting a bee action plan and promoting ecological farming in Europe. Donate, get vocal or sign their petition here. Or sign this petition calling on Obama to protect bees in the United States.

6. Environmental Defense Fund – EDF takes on the most urgent environmental threats to the climate, ecosystems, people’s health, and more by combining science, economics, and law to find practical and lasting solutions. EDF is working to improve human health through both policy reform and advocating for greater corporate responsibility regarding pollution and chemicals, tackling issues like the harmful toxins in everyday household products. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 94.48 score / 79.1% spent on the programs and services it provides.

7. Earthjustice – Among their top issues, this legal group fights for protections for farmworkers and their families from chemical exposure, sustainable agriculture methods that shift away from reliance on hazardous pesticides, improved chemical oversight, blocking of hazardous substances and forcing disclosure of GMOs. Their goal is to work towards a healthy, safe, and fair food system that would safeguard the health and economic needs of farmworkers, farmers, rural communities and consumers. Other Earthjustice campaigns include fighting toxic waste from the coal mining industry in the form of coal ash and water and air pollution from fracking. Charity Navigator Rating: 4 stars / 93.25 score / 79.6% spent on the programs and services it provides.

8. Food & Water Watch – This group advocates for common sense policies that improve the way our food is grown and produced and that make our drinking water safe and affordable. Through policy advocacy and legal support, research, publications and organizing, Food & Water Watch takes on campaigns like creating clear food labelling and banning fracking to protect our food and water from corporate deception and control, pollution, climate change, GMOs, fracking, global trade issues and factory farming issues. Charity Navigator Rating: 3 stars / 88.51 score / 72.9% spent on the programs and services it provides.

9. Fair Trade USA – Not only organic certification but Fair Trade certification too requires an environmental approach to agricultural products and a strict limitation on the types of chemicals used. But Fair Trade certification isn’t done by governments, it’s done by non-profits like Fair Trade USA, which depend partially on donations to do their work.

What can you do today? 

Make a decision to live a more chemical-free life by educating yourself about chemicals in your daily life and choosing cleaner options in the future. You can start by reading articles right here at Everyday Earthiness on beauty productscleaning products, dry cleaning, clothing, organic food, Fair Trade food, plastic food storage and paper cups. Use EWG’s free consumer guides to help you make cleaner choices (see below). Engage in environmental issues by devoting some of your annual donations to environmental charities to protect us from toxins and chemicals, by volunteering some of your time to environmental causes and to inspiring others to do the same. Be sure to spread the word about organizations you are supporting and why, what information you are discovering through those organizations and ways that others can help.

Featured resource of the day: Environmental Working Group helps you make cleaner choices by providing the following free consumer guides:

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