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Authors

Albert C. Lin

Abstract

The problem of toxic ignorance plagues modern society. On a daily basis, each of us is exposed to hundreds of chemicals, the vast majority of which have been subject to little or no testing to determine whether they are toxic to humans or the environment. Many of these chemicals may turn out to be harmless. Some, however, may cause cancer, reproductive defects, and other harms. In toto, chemicals are believed to be responsible for tens of thousands of deaths per year. The systematic failure of manufacturers and distributors to test chemical substances is a rational response to marketplace incentives, tort liability rules, and existing chemical regulations. To address the problem of toxic ignorance, this Article proposes the recognition of a new type of public nuisance to compel chemical testing. In contrast to conventional toxic tort litigation, which requires a showing of physical injury, the failure to test itself would constitute a public nuisance. Inadequate testing puts the public health at risk, and the resultant lack of information undermines the ability of governments and individuals to protect public health. In addition to explaining the basis for applying public nuisance doctrine to the failure to test, the Article also examines practical considerations relating to how courts would enforce the duty to conduct testing.

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