Getting the ToxINs ToxOUT of our Systems

The Arctic conditions last Saturday did not deter several participants from attending the first of four Human Impact Institute (HII) workshops addressing the problem of toxins in our environment. Held at the McCarren Play Center in North Brooklyn, the first workshop focused on the interrelated issues of environmental justice and consumer advocacy.


The first workshop was designed to engage discussion about toxins in our environment. Particularly, how certain communities - like North Brooklyn - are disproportionately affected, not only through urban industrial pollution, but, increasingly, through toxins in the home.

Asthma, for instance, ranks 6th in the list of chronic health conditions in the U.S., but the rates of asthma are much higher in industrial zones. The South Bronx for example, which has a high proportion of industrial sites and low percentage of green spaces, has the highest rates of asthma in the nation. The ongoing legacy of clustering of pollution in economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color is what many people think of when they think of ‘environmental justice’.

However, there is another, rapidly growing, issue, which also has environmental justice implications: toxics within the home. According to estimates, the air inside your home can be up to 100 times more polluted than the air outside. A major contributor is often the building itself: mold, dust, infestations, poor venting systems (or the need to keep windows because of dirty external air) all of which are more likely to occur in areas of lower income. Another is the rapid rise in the chemicals available and marketed to consumers: there are currently 17,000 petrochemicals available for home use, 70% of which has NOT been tested for exposure to human health and the environment. In 2008, the U.S. used 35 million pounds of antibiotics, 70% of which were given to animals that end up on our dinner plates.

Luckily - there is a lot we can do.

Workshop participants were asked to map sources of toxins in their lives, and, perhaps more importantly, discuss and map potential solutions.


Just as communities have worked - successfully in many cases - to clean up air and water, consumers have the power to clean-up their homes and the industry that produces the products that enter it. Knowing what labels and brands actually mean something and which don’t (e.g. ‘All-Natural,’ ‘Environmentally-Friendly,’ even ‘Organic’) is a valuable first step. Switching out highly chemical or un-tested products for safer alternatives is another. The Environmental Working Group (, for instance, has a set of searchable databases rating common household products and offering safer alternatives. If you’re interested in more affordable solutions, or are just feeling particularly crafty, there many ways to create your own cleaning products.

And it just so happens that the next HII workshop, held this Saturday (2/28), will focus specifically on Do-It-Yourself techniques, and feature a presentation by Ogonnaya Dotson-Newman, Director of Environmental Health at WE-ACT. As an added bonus, the first 20 participants to register will get a free non-toxic cleaning kit!

All workshops are free and open to the public (that means you!). A (healthy and non-toxic) lunch also provided. Full details can be found here.

The series is funded by a joint grant from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Community Grants Program and Rochester Institute of Technology’s Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I).

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

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