NRDC’s Health & Environment program has worked for more than three decades to protect families and communities from toxic chemicals that can cause diseases. Although we’ve seen substantial progress in public health over the past generation, environmentally linked diseases, such as asthma, autism, and other developmental problems in children, as well as specific types of cancer, have increased. Scientific studies increasingly link exposure to contaminants in the environment to these health impacts, and the related financial and societal burdens are significant. Because chemical exposures are most damaging during critical stages of development, children and pregnant women face an even higher risk.
Our diverse team of scientists, lawyers, and policy experts take government agencies to task in order to protect our health. We also engage businesses directly by challenging bad practices and fostering better alternatives.
We work to ensure that our indoor and outdoor environments are free from toxic chemicals. The vast majority of chemicals used in consumer products—more than 80,000—have not been tested for safety. Furthermore, only a handful of toxic chemicals are restricted. We advocate to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act and push for strong actions at the national and state levels to address chemical risks.
Through our work with coalitions, we help communities across the country who are threatened by contaminated air, water, and soil tainted by pesticides, industrial pollutants, and oil and gas production. The Flint, Michigan, drinking-water crisis is a powerful reminder that lower-income communities of color face a disproportionate risk of lead contamination and other pollution problems.
Internationally, we advised negotiators as they created an international treaty to reduce mercury pollution. More than 100 countries signed the treaty, and now we're focused on rapid and effective implementation in countries with the highest impacts—while also making sure U.S. state and federal mercury-reduction laws are strong.
Additionally, we pressure big industries to improve the sustainability of their supply chains in the developing world. In China specifically, we’re working with nongovernmental organizations, government officials, and Chinese and multinational companies to reduce the environmental impacts of industrial production.
We also work to strengthen our food and agriculture system so more Americans can enjoy healthy, sustainable, and climate-friendly food. Factory farms are contributing to the overuse of antibiotics important for human health—about 70 percent of which are sold for use in livestock. This overuse breeds antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” which renders crucial medicines ineffective. We advocate for state and national antibiotic policy changes, pressure major food companies to buy more sustainably produced meat, and help make antibiotic-free meat and poultry available in schools.
We hold federal regulators accountable for protecting us from food additives and pesticide residues. We defend pollinators, like monarch butterflies and bees, from dangerous pesticides, and we work to block new pesticides that could further harm their health, our health, and the environment.
To prepare for the impacts of climate change on our food system, we’re promoting more sustainable farming practices, encouraging low-carbon food choices, and reducing food waste. A staggering 40 percent of all food produced in the United States never gets eaten; most of it winds up in landfills, where it contributes to global warming emissions. NRDC developed a three-year food-waste awareness and reduction campaign with the Ad Council. We also advocate for policy changes and work with food-industry leaders and cities to reduce food waste, shift toward more plant-based menu options, and promote more sustainable livestock production practices.
- Protecting pollinators from dangerous pesticides that limit their habitats and render their food supplies poisonous
- Stopping the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production, thus preserving the medicines’ effectiveness for human health
- Reducing food waste and the carbon emissions of the agriculture sector, so our food chain is cleaner and more efficient
- Reducing toxic chemical pollution and making sure that chemicals used in products are monitored and tested
- Cleaning up industrial production overseas, so we can make the things we need without the pollution we don’t