The John Merck Fund

Environmental Health

Emerging scientific research is demonstrating that harmful chemical substances known as persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) are implicated in a wide range of reproductive, neurological, developmental and immunological problems, even at minute levels of exposure. PBTs are used not only in manufacturing and agriculture, but also in seemingly benign consumer products. Growing evidence of their health impacts is strengthening the case for reducing chemical exposures. 

All these chemicals of concern, which are ubiquitous in plastics, are derived from fossil fuels. Thus, a common goal of the Clean Energy and Environmental Health programs is to eliminate fossil fuels—coal, oil and eventually natural gas—as a source of energy and product feedstocks.

The goal of the Fund’s Environmental Health Program is to promote state and federal policies and market shifts that engender a transition away from petroleum-based chemicals linked to preventable diseases.


The Fund’s core strategy in pursuing these objectives is to reinforce the connection between PBTs and health impacts, believing that success in attaining truly protective chemicals policy will ultimately depend on making chemical exposure an issue about health rather than about the environment. Diseases and disabilities caused by exposure to chemicals released into the environment are, by definition, preventable. Individuals harmed by these chemicals, and those who provide them professional care or personal support, can become important allies of the environmental health community. To encourage this potentially powerful advocacy, the Fund supports organizations whose work addresses the links between human disease and disability and chemical exposures.