The Women’s Health Strategy was published in 2022 and aimed to improve the outcomes, health and wellbeing of women in the UK. Although the strategy addressed some crucial targets for women’s health, it failed to address the prevention of ill health and the specific gendered health impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals in the home, workplace and wider environment.

The strategy recognised the importance of taking a life course approach to health which is crucial when considering health determinants across all environments including the first environment, the womb. However, it failed to consider the impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals which are an important and much overlooked determinant of health and health outcomes especially for women. 

This was highlighted in a letter, sent to the Women’s Health Ambassador, Professor Dame Lesley Regan and signed by six NGOs with expertise in the fields of environment, public and women’s health and wildlife.  The signatories included; Wen (Women’s Environmental Network); Alliance for Cancer PreventionBreast Cancer UK; CHEM Trust; The Cancer Prevention and Education Society and GM Hazards Centre


Key elements of the letter include:

  • The Women’s Health Strategy does not include the gendered impacts of environmental exposure to harmful chemicals, such as toxic chemicals in the home, workplace and the wider environment.


  • Women have a lifetime of hormonal changes from puberty to pregnancy, menstruation, and the menopause, all at which are at risk of disturbance from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). 


  • EDCs are implicated in the rise of breast and other cancers, osteoporosis, infertility, reproductive disorders.


  • Exposure to harmful chemicals during pregnancy has been linked to preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and breast cancer. 


  • Chemicals can also cross the placenta, causing irreversible damage to the developing foetus. Mothers can also unwittingly pass chemicals to their babies via breast milk.


  • Exposures in the home and wider environment can be compounded by exposures in the workplace. Many jobs that involve direct contact with hazardous chemicals such as beauty salon workers, cleaners and cashiers are done predominantly by women. For example, women working in nail care salons can be exposed to carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals. 


  • Tampons and menstrual pads have been found to contain hazardous chemicals including carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and pesticide residues, with women potentially exposed to these chemicals for their full 40 years of menstruation.


Download the letter 


Dear Professor Dame Lesley Regan, 

Firstly, congratulations on your appointment as the first ever Women’s Health Ambassador for England. 

We are a group of 6 NGOs with expertise in the fields of public and occupational health, environment and wildlife working on chemical pollution. We are writing in connection with your role implementing the Women’s Health Strategy. 

Although the Strategy sets out some crucial and ambitious targets for women’s health, gendered health impacts resulting from environmental exposures, such as chemical pollutants in the home, public spaces and the workplace, have been overlooked. Without this, the strategy cannot truly take a life course approach to health, as chemical pollutants are an important environmental factor undermining the health of women across all life stages, as well as future generations. 

The Strategy, and health policy more broadly, needs to take a preventative approach to eliminate these exposures that are linked to a wide range of health impacts, some of which we highlight below. 

We would be grateful to meet with you virtually to discuss this important topic further. 

Chemical pollution 

We are constantly exposed to a complex cocktail of known and suspected harmful chemicals through air, water, food and consumer products, amongst other routes.

In 2020 the European Environment Agency estimated that out of 100,000 chemicals on the market, only 500 of these have been extensively characterised for their hazards and exposures. Both individual chemicals and the effects of combined exposures to these chemicals can have specific adverse effects on women and future generations. 

Specific impacts on women: 

The way forward

In order for the Women’s Health Strategy to achieve its aim of boosting health outcomes for women and girls, we believe that the impact of exposure to harmful chemicals must be addressed, and environmental and health policies must be more effectively linked. In the EU good progress has been made on this front. The EU’s Beating Cancer Plan highlights exposure to carcinogenic chemicals as a contributor to over 10% of the cancer burden in Europe. The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability commits to protecting the health of vulnerable groups, highlighting pregnant and nursing women in particular. These act as good precedents for what is needed in the UK.

It would be a pleasure to discuss this important topic with you. We are more than happy to provide further references or more information on any of the points raised above. 

Looking forward to hearing from you, 

Best wishes, 


Kate Metcalf, Co-Director, Wen (Women’s Environmental Network) 

Helen Lynn, Co-ordinator, Alliance for Cancer Prevention 

Thalie Martini, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer UK 

Anna Watson, Head of Advocacy, CHEM Trust 

Jamie Page, Executive Director, 

The Cancer Prevention and Education Society 

Janet Newsham, Coordinator of Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, GM Hazards Centre


Share the letter #womenshealthstrategy on Twitter:

@Wen_uk along with 5 other NGOs have called for the #womenhealthstrategy to address exposure to toxic chemicals as a compounding relating risk factor when it comes to  women’s health @lregan7 

Preventing ill health is as important as improving health outcomes, both need equal footing when it comes to the #womenshealthstrategy 

Exposure to toxic chemicals in the home, workplace and wider environment contribute to ill health and impact on the health of current and future generations. LINK #Greenbaby #womenshealthstrategy

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