Tribute to Andy Igrejas, Environmental Health Hero
Pictured above: Andy Igrejas accepts the Frank Hatch Award, for his brilliant coalition leadership and strategic advocacy shaping the overhaul of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), at our 2016 Celebration for Healthy Families.
We lost a dear friend, colleague, and extraordinary public health champion this past weekend. Andy Igrejas was all of the above and more, and we’ll miss him greatly.
Over these last dozen years, he founded Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and led us in an ambitious marathon of a national campaign that resulted in the first major update to our broken chemical safety law, the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), in forty years.
Andy united and built a diverse coalition of more than 450 organizations that carried the health banner in nearly every state and to the nation’s capital. Incredibly, he sustained this campaign cadre for seven years, weathering many a storm along the way.
He conceived our Mind the Store Campaign as a TSCA reform tactic to drive the chemical industry to the table for fear of losing market share at retail. That legacy continues to this day as Lowe’s and others pledge to eliminate deadly paint stripping chemicals while the Trump EPA fiddles.
Andy had that rare ability to focus on substance while standing on principle. He would dive deep into the policy weeds in defense of the highest achievable policy objectives. Although he repeatedly shook off conventional political wisdom, the opposition never succeeded in marginalizing him.
When the chemical industry hijacked the end of a ten-year legislative process, he bridged the fractious confusion with a dazzling defense that turned catastrophe into the best possible reform that could pass under the circumstances. He directly wrung more health-protective concessions even up through the final hours of negotiations.
Yes, he was the most brilliant legislative tactician and strategist that many of us have ever worked with. But that amazing accomplishment hardly tells his whole story.
As an effective communicator, Andy stood far above the other policy wonks. Through clever metaphors and folksy anecdotes, he always broke down the arcane complexity of federal policy into everyday terms that resonated with everyone. In his blog posts, coalition calls, and meetings on the Hill, he crafted messages that worked.
And often, after conceiving a particularly potent talking point, he would say with a twinkle in his eye: “And it has the added benefit of being true!”
Which brings us to Andy’s joie de vivre.
His humor was infectious, and no one escaped his wit. Both friend and foe were subject to his endless, spontaneous impersonations. Woven into any potential conversation, Andy would flawlessly adopt the vocal inflections and physical mannerisms of his subject, and carry on in full character as he imagined out loud what the other would say in that situation.
Yes, Andy could have had a second career in stand-up comedy. But in those moments, he wasn’t simply entertaining. For Andy, it was also a subversive organizing technique that endeared him to allies and disarmed our opponents.
These brief professional reflections hardly do Andy full justice. Behind the informality of his style was a Renaissance man. He was equally adept at film criticism, fine food and cocktails, noodling on the classical guitar, and international travel. He reveled in his Portuguese heritage (some knew him as Fernando), his New Jersey roots, and his love for the wilds of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and Point Reyes in California.
Andy, we miss you. Life is short, and sometimes tragically so. Our lives are so much richer because of you. And we pledge to carry on and celebrate your legacy. You can rest in peace. But we’d rather think of you raising some hell and some laughs on the other side, leading the way for a better afterlife!