The Regulation of Hazardous
Chemicals and Your Right
Regulatory laws to protect public health and the environment have evolved over several decades, shaped by scientific knowledge, economic and political power, and varying worldviews. The historical record documents failures to protect workers, the general public, and the environment from exposures to harmful and unstudied synthetic chemicals. These practices often continue today because of restrictive language in laws, inadequate implementation, narrow court decisions, corporate lobbying for loopholes, or outright deceit.
Our society uses fragmented analyses to derive public policy, separately addressing water, air, soil, pesticides, other industrial chemicals, cosmetics, and food additives. As we reactively divert public health resources from threat to threat, we often fail to consider the health of entire systems and neglect to develop a more integrated public health infrastructure. For example, early Superfund legislation was in direct response to unconscionable environmental contamination at Love Canal in New York. Thousands of tragic deaths and injuries in Bhopal, India, resulting from the negligent release of a poisonous industrial gas over a sleeping city, provided impetus for right-to-know legislation in the United States. Although these are extremely valuable pieces of legislation, we have yet to focus comprehensively on sustainable development, life cycle analyses, and pollution prevention. Instead, a bewildering mix of legislation and regulatory agencies has evolved. The following overview summarizes the distribution of regulatory responsibility among