Safer chemicals 101: introduction

Getting engaged on safer chemicals

“Health is joining environment as a major sustainability issue and therefore a major issue for businesses that want to prosper in the future,”

Nancy Turett, Global President, Health, Edelman


When you think of the sustainability of your products, what comes to mind? Maybe water usage or energy sources? What about health? The chemicals used in your products and packaging have a direct impact on the health of consumers, the environment and workers; yet, this impact is seldom mentioned in sustainability discussions. As we understand more about the connection between chemicals and health, companies face growing risks and opportunities. Fortunately, EDF is here to help.

Chemicals are vital to the economy, but ...

Chemicals are vital to the modern economy. There are tens of thousands of chemicals in use today, in everything from furniture, to shampoo, to computers. However, our understanding of their unintended consequences has severely lagged our understanding of their functional benefits. Over the last several decades, we have begun to learn that many of the chemicals we rely on today are linked to diseases and disorders like asthma, infertility, and cancer or cause damaging environmental impacts, like toxicity to fish.

Phthalates are a prime example of a widely used class of chemicals with negative health impacts. As plasticizers, they make plastics more flexible from packaging to electric wires to toys. As binders, they are used in synthetic fragrances in many cleaning and personal care products. However, research shows that phthalates impact our endocrine and reproductive systems. Disturbingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified phthalates in the blood of the general population. Even at low concentrations, these chemicals can mimic our hormones and negatively impact growth and development.

Consumers and investors are demanding companies move to safer chemicals. Regulatory bodies around the globe are trying to play catch-up and restrict or ban toxic chemicals from commerce. But if we want a future built on safer chemicals, government can’t do it alone. We also need companies like yours to lead.

This guide is intended to build your understanding of the problem with toxic chemicals in consumer products, answers why companies should develop safer chemical strategies, and provides resources for you to dive deeper. We invite you to adopt and adapt this content to best suit your company and to provide us with feedback about your experience and results.


Boma Brown West

Senior Manager, EDF+Business

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