Environmental Health: Risks and
• take back the regulatory authority it has delegated to the Environmental Protection Agency; • transfer responsibility for the safety of chemicals to industry; • address the question, What is an acceptable level of risk? • reexamine the acceptable risk level it set in the Food Quality Protection Act; and • strip the EPA of its research functions.
Humans have always linked the environment to disease, and investigations of those links have led to important triumphs over infectious diseases. Investigations of possible links between chemicals in the environment and human diseases—cancer in particular—have been politically popular. They have also been costly and fruitless fiascoes. Congress faces a clear choice: it can continue funding the wasteful programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere that are predicated on the belief that environmental chemicals are a health risk worth the expenditure of billions of dollars. Or it can find out, for itself and the public, what those programs accomplish and act on that information to restore some measure of sanity to environmental policy.
Humans recognized that air and water harbored diseases long before there was any understanding of the mechanisms of disease transmission. The Italian mala aria (“bad air” or “miasma”) came into English as “malaria.” People learned to avoid damp places, but “bad air” wasn't to blame. The subsequent discovery that certain mosquitoes that breed in damp or wet places spread the microbes that cause the disease led to