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Toxic and Hazardous Materials

The last discussion forum in the class will focus on a class of pollutants referred to as toxic and hazardous materials. Although all pollutants are damaging to some extent, these have been singled out for their special short or long run potency. All toxic and hazardous material present unique problems for monitoring and control. They are ubiquitous in our modern economy. With thousands of chemical substances in use, each with different chemical and physical properties, a significant problem is the levels of danger each poses to humans. In many cases the chemical quantities used are relatively small, making it harder to track them in production of products. Finally, the damages caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals often take many years to show up, resulting in a long time gap between cause and effect.

There are many areas of the environment where toxic and hazardous materials are present, but for this forum I want you to focus the discussion and analysis on issues relating to chemicals used in consumer products. Consumer product safety is an issue that has been around for a long time. However with world-wide industrial production of products, the rise of a “chemical economy” has produced product issues so scientifically complex they are often beyond the comprehension of the average consumer.

The first issue to be discussed, and probably the most important in the use of chemicals is the criterion for determining acceptable levels of exposure. What principles should regulating agencies follow in setting exposure standards for consumer products? How successful have they been especially related to products made outside the U.S.? Here are some of the major federal laws to consider: Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; Consumer product Safety Act; Poison Prevention Packaging Act; Lead-Based Pain Poison Prevention Act; and Toxic Substance Control Act. Is federal legislation (command and control) the best approach to dealing with this issue? Could any other approach be used? How effective has this approach been relating to children’s products (good issue to discuss at the holiday season)? Should we just use an economic approach to regulating this class of consumer products or should their be some social responsibility (environmental ethics) that government has?

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