“Legally Poisoned” Republished as Paperback

UC Riverside professor outlines risks of daily exposure to toxicants and advocates regulatory changes to protect public health

Carl F. Cranor

Philosophy professor Carl F. Cranor

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – “Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants,” a book by University of California, Riverside philosopher Carl Cranor that advocates reforming U.S. policies regulating exposure to toxic substances, will be republished in paperback by Harvard University Press in March.

Although the new edition includes few changes, health studies published since the hardcover edition was released in 2011 add weight to Cranor’s contention that all chemical compounds should be tested before they are sold in the United States.

The current risk-of-harm-based legal structure for regulating exposure to toxic substances after they are in commerce and the public is exposed poses substantial problems, says Cranor, a distinguished professor of philosophy who has served on science advisory panels for the state of California and on Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences committees. For three decades he has studied U.S. regulatory policy and philosophic issues concerning risks, science and the law, as well as the protection of susceptible population from new and existing technologies and toxicants. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and University of California Toxic Substances Research and Teaching Program.

“Because most substances are subject to post-market regulation, the existing legal structure results in involuntary experiments on citizens,” Cranor says. “The bodies of the citizenry are invaded and trespassed on by commercial substances, arguably a moral wrong.”

Americans are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of suspected toxic substances every day, substances that can affect the development and function of the brain, immune system, reproductive organs or hormones. Children are the most vulnerable. But no public health law requires product testing of most chemical compounds before they enter the marketplace.

In January, New York University researchers found that the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) —previously known to cause hormone abnormalities, asthma, behavioral problems and obesity — is linked to heart disease in children. BPA is used to line food and beverage cans to prevent corrosion. It was used in plastic baby bottles and reusable water bottles until a ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012. Other countries have banned all uses of the chemical.

Also in January, researchers in Brazil published a study which found that infants whose mothers were exposed to the pesticide permethrin during pregnancy were up to seven times more likely to have leukemia. Children whose mothers were exposed three months before conception were twice as likely to develop infant leukemia as those whose mothers reported no exposure.

With the exception of pharmaceuticals and pesticides, the U.S. legal system permits most substances to come in without testing for toxicity, without knowing whether they cause cancer, birth defects, developmental effects, or reproductive effects. Only about 2 percent of 62,000 substances in commerce before 1979 have been reviewed at all for their toxicity by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cranor says. Of the approximately 50,000 substances introduced since 1979, about 85 percent were allowed to market with no data concerning health effects.

The legal process for identifying adverse health effects and removing the responsible substances from the marketplace is extremely slow and burdensome, he says.

“The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to require testing of products before they come in to commerce,” he says. “If they appear to pose adverse health effects, they should not be permitted, or they should be required to be reformulated so the problems disappear.”

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Carl Cranor
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