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Risk, Science, and Politics

Risk, Science, and Politics: Regulating Toxic Substances in Canada and the United States

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Risk, Science, and Politics
    Book Description:

    Paying particular attention to how politicians and bureaucrats in the two countries deal with the scientific uncertainty that pervades environmental decision making, Harrison and Hoberg analyse case studies of seven controversial substances suspected of causing cancer in humans: the pesticides Alar and alachlor, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, radon gas, dioxin, saccharin, and asbestos. They weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each country's approach according to five criteria: stringency and timeliness of the regulatory decision, balancing of risks and benefits by decision makers, opportunities for public participation, and the interpretation of science in regulatory decision making.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6505-0
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 Policy Making amid Scientific Uncertainty
    (pp. 3-15)

    The emergence of environmental concern in recent decades has presented modern industrialized countries with a common challenge: how to protect their citizens from the risks of hazardous substances while simultaneously reaping the benefits of the activities that produce the hazards. Uncertainty, particularly with respect to the magnitude of risks posed by many substances, complicates the problem of balancing the risks and benefits of toxic substances. Scientists often cannot answer policy makers’ questions about the risks. Faced with the possibility of livies at risk, however, policy makers seldom have the luxury of waiting for scientific consensus.

    The demand for policy making...

  6. 2 Cancer Risk Assessment: Concepts and Controversies
    (pp. 16-31)

    In this chapter we survey several important controversies in cancer risk assessment and management, which arise time and again in the case studies we have chosen. While some of the material that follows is necessarily technical, it is so fundamental to the policy disputes in toxic substance regulation that it is essential to our discussion. We have attempted to make the information as accessible as possible to a lay audience. The focus of this and subsequent chapters is assessment of risks tohumanhealth; assessment of environmental hazards and risks to animals are beyond the scope of this volume.


  7. 3 Between Science and Politics: Assessing the Risks of Dioxins
    (pp. 32-54)

    The very mention of the word “dioxin” ignites public concern over environmental and public health issues. Dioxin’s reputation as the most toxic substance known to humanity has ensured that controversy closely follows identification of each new source of dioxins, including municipal incinerators, Agent Orange, and pulp mill effluents. Despite the controversy, there have been few regulations to date in either Canada or the United States to control environmental releases of dioxins. This chapter therefore differs somewhat from those that follow in placing greater emphasis on the risk assessments performed in the two countries than on final regulatory standards. In that...

  8. 4 Forbidden Fruit: Regulating the Pesticides Alachlor and Alar
    (pp. 55-76)

    Pesticides confront regulators with a classic risk-benefit trade-off. While pesticides can greatly increase agricultural productivity, they can also pose threats to the environment and to human health, such as cancer and birth defects.¹ Humans are exposed to pesticides during application, through residue on food, and through groundwater contamination. This chapter examines two regulatory controversies involving pesticides. The first, alachlor, is a clear case of policy divergence.² Canada banned the substance, while the United States kept it on the market with minimal restrictions. The second case, Alar, is less straightforward. After a great deal of negative publicity, the manufacturer withdrew the...

  9. 5 Paternalism vs Consumer Choice: Regulation of Saccharin in Canada and the United States
    (pp. 77-98)

    In 1977 a Canadian laboratory study revealed that saccharin – a widely used artificial sweetener – causes bladder tumours in rats. In Canada this resulted in the enactment of a regulation drastically limiting the availability of the only non-caloric sugar substitute available at the time to the diet food industry and diet food consumers. While the decision sparked only moderate controversy in Canada, announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of a proposed ban in the United States, based primarily on the Canadian study, precipitated a public outcry that the loss of saccharin would have a devastating impact on diabetics, dieters,...

  10. 6 Political Insulation: The Rise and Fall of Urea-Formaldehyde Foam
    (pp. 99-121)

    Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) enjoyed a surge in popularity in both Canada and the United States following the “energy crisis” of the mid-1970s, as homeowners sought to avert rising energy costs by better insulating their homes. The history of the product followed a similar path in the two countries in many respects. Virtually identical product standards were developed in Canada and the U.S. in cooperation with UFFI manufacturers. Later, when evidence emerged of the hazards of formaldehyde gas released by the product, regulators in both countries moved to ban the product within months of each other in the EARLY 1980s....

  11. 7 Acceptable Risks? Regulating Asbestos in Canada and the U.S.
    (pp. 122-150)

    The case of asbestos demonstrates the harsh realities of exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. A valuable industrial material, asbestos has been widely used during the twentieth century. Evidence of the devastating effects of asbestos on worker health emerged from studies of asbestos miners and others who worked with the product. As awareness of these effects produced efforts to control exposures, many of the worst operations were cleaned up or closed down. Asbestos still plays an important economic role, and as a result intense scientific and political conflicts remain over how stringently asbestos should be regulated.

    Asbestos is a...

  12. 8 The Perils of Paternalism: Controlling Radon Exposure in Canadian and U.S. Homes
    (pp. 151-167)

    Radon is another clear case of policy divergence. Radon has been a much higher priority in the United States than in Canada, and the issue even found its way into popular culture, as the scene fromthirtysomethingdemonstrates. While the U.S. approach has been to publicize the hazards of radon so that homeowners can decide what actions to take, the Canadian government has downplayed the hazard and adopted a more paternalistic approach of deciding, on the homeowners’ behalf, that the risks of radon do not warrant the costs of mitigation.

    The case of indoor radon is unique because it occurs...

  13. 9 Conclusion: Risk, Science, and Public Policy
    (pp. 168-184)

    The cases presented in this volume clearly reveal two different regulatory styles in action. In each case there was more open conflict over risks in the United States than in Canada, with interest groups, the media, legislators, and the courts playing a much more important role south of the border. The regulatory process in Canada tended to be closed, informal, and consensual, in comparison with the open, legalistic, and adversarial style of the U.S.

    Despite the striking contrast in regulatory styles, perhaps the most important conclusion of this book is that there is no simple and direct relationship between regulatory...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 185-228)
  15. Index
    (pp. 229-235)