Regulatory Policy and Trends in Toxic Chemicals

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Emissions of toxic agents have continued to decrease through the present time. For example, figure 4-2 shows data on emissions of dioxin, otherwise known as Agent Orange or 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a toxic compound with many applications.

Figure 4-2. Releases of the toxic chemical dioxin. 35

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Figure 4-2. Releases of the toxic chemical dioxin. 35

1999.5 2000 2000.5 2001 2001.5 2002 2002.5 2003

YEAR

1999.5 2000 2000.5 2001 2001.5 2002 2002.5 2003

YEAR

2003.5

Data from Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Figure 4-3 shows that the levels of emissions of all toxic chemicals combined have been declining steadily and dramatically (over tenfold) since 1990 in the state of Massachusetts. Other states (and the United States as a whole) are experiencing similar trends.

Just as with air and water pollution, the progress we have made in reducing and often totally eliminating chemical-toxicity hazards from our workplaces and our environment did not occur spontaneously or naturally. Scientific research, just as with pollution and health, is necessary but was not sufficient to change conditions significantly. Workers, citizens, and environmentalists exerted political pressure. The media covered accidental spills and the havoc they created at Bhopal, Seveso, Love Canal, and other places; they also covered reports of mercury in swordfish, pesticides in vegetables, and benzene in drinking water. This all led to the passage of federal and local laws designed to control such exposures. One of the first such laws dealing specifically with toxic chemicals was the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA, usually pronounced Tosca), another landmark piece of

Figure 4-3. Emissions of all toxic chemicals in Massachusetts. 25

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o 10

Figure 4-3. Emissions of all toxic chemicals in Massachusetts. 25

O 15

o 10

1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003

YEAR

1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003

YEAR

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

legislation that specifically deals with the huge number of chemicals in active production whose toxicity—especially chronic toxicity—is not yet known.

The act requires testing chemicals for carcinogenicity, probably the most important and well-known potential harmful effect of certain chemicals. According to this law, all of the 75,000 chemicals produced or imported in the United States should be tested for environmental or human-health risk. If such a risk were discovered, then the EPA could ban the use or sale of that chemical. For new chemicals not already on the market, the law requires toxicity testing before the chemical is released. This also spurred a new industry devoted to the testing of chemicals for toxic effects.

The great majority of such chemicals prove harmless, yet thirteen new chemicals were banned as a result of TSCA testing up to i992. A related law, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, is devoted to making sure that the EPA certifies that pesticides, previously controlled by the Department of Agriculture, are free of hazard before being used in the field.

Another law that was passed to help the EPA deal with the threat of toxic chemicals in our environment is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, first passed in i976, and amended in ^84 by the Federal Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments. This law deals with "cradle to grave'' control of hazardous waste, including the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of these toxic materials. It also addresses the critical issue of underground storage tanks and phased out land-based dumping of hazardous chemical waste.

In response to Love Canal and the discovery of toxic chemical-waste dumps all over the country, a law called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or CERCLA was passed in i980. This act, commonly known as Superfund, levied a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries that would be used to pay for the cleanup of toxic- or hazardous-waste sites. The chemical industry was not happy about this tax, but it didn't complain very loudly, because the public was not in a friendly mood toward the chemical industry at the time of Love Canal. The EPA

collected and used $1.6 billion for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

The work of cleaning up Superfund sites started immediately, and over 900 sites have been remediated. Over 1,200 sites on the National Priorities list still remain to be cleaned up. The Superfund law also includes provisions for assessing liability when it can be proved who created the hazardous waste site. This provides a strong incentive for companies to avoid the wholesale dumping of toxic chemicals as had been more or less standard practice for some (especially smaller) companies for years. It also stimulated the creation of a new industry: legal and environmentally safe hazardous-waste collection and disposal.

The EPA has since taken many other actions to deal with the issue of toxic chemicals. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is an EPA database containing detailed information on hundreds of chemicals and their disposition by over 20,000 industries in the United States. The database details exactly how each chemical at each facility is disposed of, released, recycled, and used for energy recovery or treatment. All sectors of industry, including manufacturing, mining, utilities, and waste treatment, report the data to the central database. Another important law, the 1990 Pollution Prevention Act (PPA), mandated the TRI. A section in the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) requires the public to receive information on releases of toxic chemicals in their communities and minimizes the effects of potential toxic chemical accidents.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is a chemical-industry trade group that (like the NIH and the EPA) provides research funding to academic scientists in order to further understanding of the science behind chemical toxicity.

I have been the recipient of an ACC grant. When I first told my colleagues about getting this grant from a chemical-industry group, one of them warned me to be careful. He knew of cases where academic scientists who had received funding from a previous (now defunct) chemical industry-sponsored foundation had been pressured to submit their results for industry review and sometimes even approval before publication. This is unaccept able for any reputable research scientist, who must, as discussed in chapter i, be free of any political constraints and nonscientific considerations in carrying out and reporting on his or her work. However, such interference is, like many sins of the chemical industry, a thing of the past. I have never had any requests to review my data or even my manuscript drafts before publication, and I have nothing but praise for the way the ACC handles its research-support program, which in fact has become the model for industry-supported research.

Someone could write a full book on the successful and totally underre-ported efforts made by government and industry to reverse the health dangers of toxic chemicals in the environment. The brief summary I reported here, although by no means the full picture, should give the reader at least some idea of the magnitude of the efforts that have been going on for well over a decade.

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