Print Issue Volume 101 - Issue 6

Regulating Cumulative Risk

Chemicals and pesticides permeate the natural world. They are woven (sometimes quite literally) into the fabric of our lives. Because chemicals are everywhere, the key to protecting public health in the chemical age is regulating cumulative risk—that is, the combined risk from exposure to multiple chemicals and pesticides through various exposure pathways.

While necessary, and increasingly feasible through evolutions in risk science, issues of cumulative exposure have largely been a blindspot in our regulatory efforts and a glaring omission in the dialogue about regulatory reform. Legal scholars too have been curiously silent.

The time is ripe to bring cumulative risk from regulatory fringe to center stage. In the summer of 2016, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. While the new Act does not directly tackle issues of cumulative exposure, it does leave room for regulators to adopt a cumulative risk lens. Similarly, existing federal legislation governing pesticide regulation would support a greater regulatory commitment to cumulative risk.

Because enacting new legislation will not fix old problems unless regulators place issues of cumulative risk at the center of the regulatory landscape, this Article explains why such a paradigm shift is necessary and permissible. In fact, cumulative risk is so central to the protection of public health that the failure to consider such risk may amount to arbitrary and capricious decision-making.

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