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Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us At Risk From Toxicants

Interview With Author Dr. Carl F. Cranor

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In the new book, Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants, Carl F. Cranor brings together decades of legal and academic experience on regulation of industrial, agricultural, and pharmaceutical chemicals and outlines what we need to do better to protect the environment and public health.

In our podcast, Dr. Cranor walks us through the history of regulation and testing of commercial chemicals, from bisphenol A, or BPA, to lead, mercury, pesticides, drugs, and other chemicals. Because many industrial chemicals are designed to be persistent, they bioaccumulate, or build up in our bodies and in the bodies of other organisms, and can even be transmitted to fetuses in utero.

Recent science has shown that these chemicals rarely stay in the products they were designed for. More than 200 industrial chemicals can be found in the body of an average American today. Because they are transmitted to fetuses, even newborn babies have these chemicals in their bodies. Though the effects of many of these chemicals on human health is unknown, studies are showing that more and more chemicals previously thought harmless may have significant negative effects on the expression of genes and early development of babies, or cause disorders, chronic disease and premature death in adults.

We should assume that any molecule we put into the environment will get into our bodies, cross the placenta, and get into the breast milk.

 Though the ways in which industrial chemicals come to reside in our bodies is increasingly well understood, our nation’s testing and regulatory system has not evolved to keep pace. Though the FDA maintains strong testing requirements for new drugs–substances we put into our bodies intentionally–a corresponding process to test the hundreds of industrial chemicals that enter our bodies accidentally does not yet exist.

Because no pre-market testing is required of new industrial chemicals as it is for pharmaceuticals, companies have no incentive to ensure their products are safe for human use. Dr. Cranor argues persuasively, through rigorous scientific and legal research, that moving our industrial chemical safety laws toward a pre-market testing approach can help create incentives for companies to invest in safety and improve human health.

Carl F. Cranor is author of Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants, and a distinguished professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. Sean Pool is Managing Editor of Science Progress.


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