Throughout, the book provides a devastating critique of the way we currently assess an industry’s impact on our world, based upon a model Thornton calls the Risk Paradigm. The Risk Paradigm begins with the assumption that some exposure to toxic chemicals is inevitable in industrial society; thus the proper task for regulators is to determine acceptable levels of exposure, or “thresholds,” for each single pollutant. Working backward from this determined level, regulators then calculate the maximum allowable release rate for a given facility that will still fall within the threshold of contamination for its neighbors. Recent evidence on a variety of chemicals including dioxin \(the most toxic suggested that there are no acceptable le els of exposure for some substances; tha fact, adverse health effects, including docrine disruption, development proble and even cancer, can follow exposure the smallest traces of these toxins. The tory of lead regulation is a telling exam of how thresholds have failed regulat and public safety. The original consen among toxicologists as recently as 1960s was that low or “background” le of lead found in the human bloodstre were benign. As new evidence of the of of lead on childhood development accu lated over the next twenty years, the ceptable threshold was lowered again again, until it finally reached zero. Yet the most egregious shortcoming the risk control method is that it views e chemical and its source in isolation, fail to account for the cumulative pollut burden in the environment. “Thousand individual facilities, each discharging `acceptable amount’ of thousands of dif ent substances, together produce a cumu tive global impact; the current system, focused only on the local parts, is and always will be blind to this problem of the whole.” Thus, Thornton notes, a facility with a somewhat taller smokestack, distributing its waste over a much broader area, appears under this paradigm to be more protective of public health than one with a shorter stack, which has a more demonstrable contaminating effect of people in the immediate vicinity. That pollution must fall somewhere, of course, increasing somebody’s exposure; for the purposes of the regula tory permit in question, however, it doesn’t “count.” Neither do the hundreds of organochlorines, introduced into the air and water as byproducts in various chlorine processes, that have never even been identified, much less assessed for toxicity. Nor does the Risk Paradigm, with its chemicalby-chemical testing in the laboratory, account for interactions between chemicals we are e ,0 cuses o m ounded o osys anis ys ord . ceo wh in, ebs le c ich, ange ,o in is ability .tde cherm is .act should void , ca uafr the absence d is is the pre ould err o e side of tential im is of a mist despread, obal co dersto , ast re/ It so t ns are enorm c lorine ays ioaccumulate, Thornto //4 ligApfifi l whic may II ‘1;:1011 ‘N/10,p made someone sic en together, in the view of Thornton and a growing number of biologists and public health experts, the accumulated evidence against chlorine is damning enough to reverse the onus: any chemical in this class should have to be proven safe before it can be released into the environment. Over the next generation, existing uses of chlorine should be phased out through the use of substitutes, in a process known as a chemical sunset. As Thornton carefully outlines, safer and in many cases cheaper alternatives exist for everything from PVC plastic to water treatment, and many companies and municipalities in the industrialized world have already begun to slowly wean themselves from chlorine. Improved efficiency and recycling, meanwhile, have the potential to greatly reduce the demand for caustic soda, and alternative sources, as well as other alkylating agents As the anti-chlorine movement gained steam in the early 1990s, the industry, act ing through its various flack groups \(in cluding the Vinyl Institute and the Chlorine tack, couched in the authoritative language of science. \(And some in the language of abloids: “The end of chlorine would spell e end of modern civilization itself,” the ustry-funded Competitive Enterprise ects calls for chemicals to be judged as sses, calling instead for judgment to be ade on the basis of “sound science” \(not incidentally, a term Governor Bush has gun using more and more in recent r the economy in the event of a phaseout. Thornton demonstrates, in industry blic relations literature the buzzword ound science” has become shorthand for emical-by-chemical, quantitative-risk sessment. But after reading Thornton’s vastating critique, we might reasonably k what, if anything, is “sound” about this proach. As Thornton writes: This framework assumes, contrary to ience’s actual findings, that ecosystems ye assimilative capacities for subthat persist or bioaccumulate, that holds exist and are discoveroxic effects, that the hazard e total burden of chemical exure is the sum of the effects of each individual compound in isolation, that risk assessments focused on human effect predict the potential impacts on all the diverse species and ecosystems in nature, and that pollution control technologies are an effective way of preventing chemicals from getting into the environment. The Risk Paradigm steadfastly ignores what we have learned about these assumptions from experience, observation, and experiment: that they are false. h t ru” gic ” Ec eventing polluti g its harms. “The new del for ed the which fo ther than ork exsysoncy, , all is in sy ems, t have a e y principle: ” tion when e are serio incomplet the zards toxicity, p ph e addition ire virtu ence, er than the ould take hun s ld inconclusive r Its an ever conclusi th AUGUST 25, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27 1111111111111111111111110111111111111111111111111111101111111111111111111111111111111111111111111101101111111111111111011110moillmillIMMININIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIMINIMIll
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