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Green Chemistry Experts and Environmental Justice Advocates Call on OSTP to Center Environmental Justice and Fully Reflect Office’s Equity Action Plan in Efforts to Define and Advance Sustainable Chemistry

         

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Press Contact: Deidre Nelms, dnelms@comingcleaninc.org, 802-251-0203 ext. 711 

 

Coming Clean, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts Lowell urged The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to inclusively engage and address the harms faced by communities disproportionately affected by current practices of chemical use, production and disposal, as the Office develops a definition of Sustainable Chemistry. 

 

The above listed organizations submitted a joint comment to the OSTP in response to the Request for Information (RFI) seeking information to develop a consensus definition for the term “Sustainable Chemistry” and to consider the implications of such a definition as part of broader federal efforts to enact the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2019 which was signed into law January 2021.

 

“Sustainable Chemistry cannot be achieved without ending and remedying disproportionate impacts on communities of color, low-income communities, Indigenous communities, farmworkers, and other constituencies disproportionately impacted by chemical hazards,” the comment reads. These communities face inequitable exposures to hazardous chemicals “during feedstock extraction, during the production of chemicals, materials, and products, during their use, as well as after disposal at waste sites, which are located overwhelmingly near these communities and are documented to release chemicals into adjacent air, soils, and water bodies.”

 

Although OSTP's January 2022 Equity Action Plan commits to “actively engage with the public” and “diversify who has an opportunity to participate in the policy-making process,” to date, this process has not intentionally solicited input from communities of color, low-income communities, Native, Indigenous and Tribal communities and farmworkers. 

 

The joint comment urges the OSTP to: 

  • Proactively identify equity and environmental justice issues and concerns, and include specific and measurable questions, actions and outreach to ensure they are addressed before any definition, plan, or actions are finalized;
  • Create and execute a robust equity and environmental justice outreach and participation plan throughout the process and implementation that includes communities and constituencies disproportionately impacted by chemical hazards; 
  • Ensure that the definition, strategic plan, and funding/investment guidelines or priorities align with and advance the federal government’s Justice40 commitment. 

 

The comment also stresses the need for Sustainable Chemistry to prevent ongoing and future environmental injustices, restore communities and workers that have been disproportionately harmed by chemical exposure or that face ongoing legacy exposures, and support their growth beyond restoration. And it calls for a “focus on equity and justice at all stages of the chemical lifecycle,” particularly during oil and gas extraction, chemical production, product manufacturing and use, and disposal and end of life.

 

It recommends that the federal government:

  • Also include communities most impacted by unsustainable chemistry as an integral part of the discussions and decision-making concerning sustainable chemistry going forward.
  • Prioritize innovations and investments that do not create new hazards or exposures for already impacted communities and, in fact, actively eliminate or significantly reduce hazards and exposures;
  • Prioritize research, development, demonstration, and investment to benefit those communities most impacted by unsustainable chemistry;
  • Ensure that products of sustainable chemistry are available at a reasonable cost to communities (including workers); 
  • Prioritize the training of present and future generations regarding the integration of social and environmental justice issues and diverse cultural perspectives into chemistry education;
  • Require that all federal grants awarded toward chemistry education require teaching of the principles of Green Chemistry and Engineering;
  • Ensure that training and opportunities to meaningfully participate in the sustainable chemistry economy are targeted towards communities historically impacted by unsustainable chemistry; and
  • Ensure that funding and support are available for just community and worker transitions away from production of toxic chemicals.

 

“Arriving at a new understanding of Sustainable Chemistry is an opportunity to rethink our attitudes about whether we are willing to permit the chemical industry to cause any level of ‘acceptable harm,’” said Judith Robinson, Executive Director of Coming Clean. “Truly sustainable chemistry that doesn’t harm human health, future generations, or the planet will require an intentional focus on those most injured by the current system and a complete transformation away from fossil carbon-based chemicals and other inherently toxic chemistries.”

 

"The communities and workers most affected by toxic chemistry and its legacy must be a central part of the process to real solutions," said Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. "We’re counting on this administration to act on its commitments and ensure that this process includes our voices and delivers real change for our communities, not half measures that allow the chemical industry to continue business as usual while pretending to be sustainable.”

 

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Coming Clean is a collaborative network of frontline community activists, environmental justice organizations, and policy, science and market experts, committed to transforming the chemical industry so that it is no longer a source of harm. For twenty years, we have fought to end legacy pollution in communities of color, ban toxic pesticides that harm farmworkers and their families, regulate hazardous facilities, and end the sale of unsafe products in dollar stores and other retailers across the country.

The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform is a national network of grassroots Environmental and Economic Justice organizations and advocates in communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals from legacy contamination, ongoing exposure to polluting facilities and health-harming chemicals in household products. EJHA supports a just transition towards safer chemicals and a pollution-free economy that leaves no community or worker behind.