CELDF is helping the first communities in the country to prohibit chemical trespass, which occurs when people and the natural environment are harmed by chemical agents that are forced into communities, through practices such as aerial spraying and industrial waste disposal. Below learn about these dangers, the ways in which communities are organizing to stop them, and what you can do in your community.

Chemical trespass can happen in many ways, but in recent years, the biggest trespasses have been the industrial practice of fracking, as well as pesticidal agents that contaminate land, air, and soil – thus contaminating us and surrounding ecosystems. Although the EPA and CDC are appointed to protect people and the natural environment from such trespasses, these systems, in fact, allow the trespass to occur, and regulate the “legal” amounts of these chemicals.

Why does it matter?

People, communities, and nature, have a right to be healthy and thrive – to be free of chemical trespass. When industrial, high-volume oil fracking contaminates pure drinking water, or aerial pesticide spraying toxifies air and soil, it is people and ecosystems who suffer the health consequences from ingesting the toxins. Residents suffer the financial consequences in the cost of shipping in water, paying for medical treatment, as well as decreased property values.

chemical trespass

A Brief History of Trespass

In 1958, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act formally articulated the risks relative to chemical exposure, but the law was reversed when claims that the hazardous materials themselves were not the issue, but rather exposure to the hazards was the issue.[1] This effectively took culpability away from the cause of the hazard (the use of toxic chemicals by corporations) and made it the responsibility of citizens to minimize contact with dangerous chemicals that corporations produce. In this day and age, chemical trespass is becoming more and more unavoidable.

A System designed to allow harms

The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is an appointed government agency that is charged with “protecting” people and the environment. But instead, it operates more as an agency that regulates how much harm can occur before government action is required.[2] The requirements of EPA testing, especially its lack of preventative measures, are alarming [2]. In order to require testing of a new chemical, the EPA must first show the potential risk. No evidence of harm is interpreted as no harm, from their perspective.[2] The problem with this way of thinking is that many of the harmful effects of chemical trespass are worsened through prolonged exposure and are often not immediately seen in testing. It’s a system designed to let corporations put toxins in our environment with no repercussions to them – but serious repercussions for people, communities, and nature.

What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us

Cancer, thyroid disorders, reproductive issues, diabetes, and psychological disorders are common manifestations of exposure to chemical agents. The Center for Disease Control regularly surveys the population for the presence of 275 specific chemicals, although scientists estimate that over 700 hundred corporate-produced chemicals can be found in the body of every person.[3][4] There’s a lot we don’t know when it comes to chemical agents inside the human body and the EPA would agree. As of 2008, the EPA was reported to possess “complete health data” for less than 0.25% of the 84,000 chemicals in commerce (roughly 210 chemicals).[5] Although the jury is still out on many of the specific documented chemicals that enter the market each year, the verdict is already clear for those suffering from neurological and physical illness: what we don’t know can hurt us.

The Victims

Chemical trespass, as with many such violations, is a harm whose true impact can only be fully understood with time. Often, the environmental and human costs associated with these chemicals come to light well after they are ruled “hazardous.” As of late 2006, the EPA listed 267 chemicals as “unsponsored,” or willingly untested by companies.[2]

Usually, the victims of chemical trespass are working class citizens who are vulnerable to nearby chemical treatments, or families using everyday items rendered toxic by unmonitored chemicals. In 2011, the EPA ran a test of 15 high production volume (HPV) chemicals and found that 14 of them may constitute substantial human exposure affecting upwards of 140,000 workers.[6] These hazardous chemicals can lead to negative effects on male reproduction systems and the central nervous system, or cause asthma and breast cancer.[7] Even more disturbing is how long corporations have been allowed to use these measurable and hazardous materials near our homes. As far back as 1993, it was estimated that at least 5% of babies born in America had been exposed to chemical quantities sufficient to cause neurological damage.[8] The victims are not only those being exposed to these chemicals directly, but those who, unknowingly, are in danger from a very young age.

Cashing In On Fear

A tactic often used by corporations when a chemical is deemed unsafe is to replace the it with something else, declare it free of the noted harmful substance, and cash in on the public’s fear. Bisphenol A (BPA) is one example of this:

The substitution of BPA with BPS [Bisphenol S] in consumer products is an unfortunate example of the concept of ‘Regrettable Replacements,’ the substitution of a toxic chemical with another chemical that turns out to be equally, if not more, toxic. How does such a replacement happen? One thought is that industries respond to public or regulatory pressure, or see an opportunity for financial gain, by replacing one chemical that has been publicly identified as harmful (BPA) with a new chemical, taking advantage of the public’s misperception that a product that is ‘BPA-free’ is inherently safe. The issue of regrettable substitutions is not limited to BPA/BPS; another prominent example from the field of endocrine disruption includes the replacement of one set of flame retardants (polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs]) with another set of chemicals (polybrominated diphenyl ethers [PBDEs]) that have similar toxicological and endocrine-disrupting properties.[9]

Finding Justice

The purpose of rights-based campaigns focusing on chemical trespass is to recognize and assert that it is an inviolate, fundamental, and inalienable right of every person residing within any given community to be free from invasions of their bodies by corporate chemicals. Government is the people’s means of protecting rights and enforcing laws, and it is the municipality’s responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents – and the people’s right to do so if the municipality does not.

The concept of chemical trespass places the burden of proof and liability on the polluter, no matter where the pollution is emanating from. In this way, “chemical trespass” transcends conventional notions of “jurisdiction” and private property “rights” to pollute.

Take Action. Stand up to Chemical Trespassing

If you or your community is threatened by chemical trespassing, or trying to stop a corporation prone to chemical trespassing from establishing itself in your community, contact CELDF and learn how to take action. You and your community have rights, and CELDF is here to help you fight for them.


[1] Sarah A. Vogel, “From ‘the Dose Makes the Poison’ to ‘the Timing Makes the Poison’: Conceptualizing Risk in the Synthetic Age,” Environmental History 13 (October 2008): 669. http://envhis.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy.library.wwu.edu/content/13/4/629
[2] Richard Denison blog
[3] Arthur Daemmrich, “Risk Frameworks and Biomonitoring: Distributed Regulation of Synthetic Chemicals in Humans,” Environmental History 13 (October 2008): 685
[4] http://www.panna.org/science/biomonitoring/stories-from-the-field
[5] Scott Frickel, “On Missing New Orleans: Lost Knowledge and Knowledge Gaps in an Urban Hazardscape,” Environmental History 13 (October 2008): 648 http://envhis.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy.library.wwu.edu/content/13/4/629
[6] regulations.gov
[7] Roig, Benoit, Wissem Mnif, Aziza Ibn Hadj Hassine, Ines Zidi, Sandrine Bayle, Aghleb Bartegi, and Olivier Thomas. “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Human Health Risk Assessment: A Critical Review.” Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology 43.21 (2013): 2316-325. Web. http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.library.wwu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/10643389.2012.672076
[8] Colborn (pg. 381).
[9] Vandenberg, Laura N., Derek Luthi, and D’Andre Quinerly. “Plastic Bodies in a Plastic World: Multi-disciplinary Approaches to Study Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.” Journal of Cleaner Production (2015): Web. http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.library.wwu.edu/science/article/pii/S095965261500075X