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Managing Pollution

Economic Valuation and Environmental Toxicology

Edited by Clive L. Spash and Sandra McNally

Economists are concerned by a wide range of environmental impacts from pollutants, as they affect human welfare and not just human health. This insightful book demonstrates how economic analysis can contribute to decision making in environmental policy and discusses the theoretical limitations of economic valuation.
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Chapter 2: Environmental toxicology and health risk assessment in the United States: economic and policy issues

Mark Dickie


Mark Dickie* INTRODUCTION Policy analysis of environmental health risks in the United States rests on a division of labour between risk management and risk assessment. Risk management concerns analysis, design and implementation of policy, while risk assessment uses available scientific evidence on toxicity and exposure to describe and quantify the health threat associated with a given chemical. Environmental toxicology often provides the critical evidence used in risk assessment. Yet toxicological evidence yields uncertain predictions of human health hazards, and the uncertainty promotes controversy about appropriate methods to assess risk. Critics concerned with public health contend that risk assessments fail to account adequately for effects of multiple and cumulative exposures, or for populations such as children whose exposure or susceptibility may be unusually high. Proponents of economic efficiency, on the other hand, argue that risk assessments routinely exaggerate threats to human health and may support regulations yielding minor health benefits at substantial cost. This chapter examines economic and policy issues arising from the use of environmental toxicology to assess health risk in the US. Assessment of environmental risks to children, an issue of current policy interest (US EPA 1998c), is emphasized at several points. The chapter argues that the philosophy and practice of risk assessment hinders use of economic analysis to inform policy decisions. A guiding doctrine of risk assessment in the US is to handle uncertainties in the toxicological evidence using the precautionary principle: when in doubt, err on the side of overstating risk to promote * The US Environmental Protection...

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