Edited by Steven A. Peterson and Albert Somit
Chapter 22: Toxins, health, and behavior: implications of toxicology for public policy
The release of toxic chemicals in the environment can easily become the focus of vigorous political controversy if scientists claim to have evidence that big businesses (especially those engaged in manufacturing or in producing medical drugs or food supplies) or a local government are using a toxin that has harmful effects on exposed humans. In the US, such issues can be difficult to resolve because when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) charges violation of the law, those charged often claim their practice is safe and use the absence of evidence presented by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to support this claim. Conversely, if the CDC, the agency responsible for the study of human health, makes the charge, offenders can claim the EPA has legal responsibility. Due to limited collaboration between the EPA and CDC, political controversy can result, especially if Congressmen or Senators seek to keep jobs involved for constituents. To demonstrate the potential of the new field of ‘Biology and Politics’, this research studies the effects of environmental exposures to lead, manganese and silicofluorides (chemicals added to many public water supplies) on learning, substance abuse, and violent crime. In each of these behaviors, public data on frequency can be assumed to have been collected without reference to exposure to toxic chemicals. Linking biological evidence of harm to the politics of policy-making and politics can therefore be useful to public decision-makers, academic researchers and citizens.
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