Toxic chemicals, such as lead and pesticides, disproportionately affect communities of color, low-income communities, children, infants, and pregnant women, among other especially vulnerable populations. To protect these communities, we need to select safer alternatives to these chemicals in agriculture, consumer products, and other applications. Scientists have developed a process called alternatives assessment to identify, compare, and select safer options to chemicals of concern, with a primary goal of reducing harm to human health and the environment. However, these methods have not focused on protecting the health of vulnerable populations.
Based on interviews conducted with leaders working at the intersection of environmental justice and chemical policy, this paper offers initial guidance on how to address gaps related to protecting vulnerable populations as we evaluate alternatives. We envision an alternatives assessment process that engages and empowers vulnerable populations, avoids regrettable substitutions, and ultimately improves the health and lives of those most affected by toxic chemicals.