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20 Years In, We’re Just Getting Started

Celebrating Health Care Without Harm’s 20th anniversary, Gary Cohen reflects on the last two decades in the environmental health movement and offers an opportunity for health care to redefine its role in the 21st century.

When we started Health Care Without Harm, we hardly knew anyone who worked in the health care sector. We were mostly outsiders, community activists who had been working for decades in the environmental movement. But we knew we needed powerful allies to transform this emerging science linking the environment to our health into action that would protect our children, our families, our communities. We needed health care.

Back then, new science revealed that low-dose exposures of toxic chemicals in the first thousands days of a child’s life could create a host of health problems later in life, including cancer, learning disabilities, infertility, and other chronic diseases. At the same time, we began to learn that pregnant women and unborn children were being exposed to these same toxic chemicals. We were outraged by this chemical trespass into our bodies.

And so in September of 1996, a small group of individuals met at Commonweal in Bolinas, California, giving birth to Health Care Without Harm.

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