Reading the above title, you might have a very different idea of where this post is going, but toxic ignorance is a legal concept well known in the business of producing consumer items. Companies that use chemicals in their manufacturing processes are not always required to do human toxicity studies before using those chemicals. When these toxicity studies are not required, it is to a company’s benefit not to do them. Because having information about toxicity to humans is actually a liability to the corporation, often these companies prefer to be ignorant of any toxic effects. When you combine the lack of a requirement to perform and publish toxicity studies, with some company’s strong aversion to disclosing information about proprietary manufacturing processes, disasters sometimes happen.
Often an allegation that something is wrong is the only reason toxicity studies are finally done. And it may surprise you find out that even then, the studies are not usually performed by the companies manufacturing the products and using the chemicals. The lack of toxicity study requirements in advance of a product being released leads to the studies being done later as a consequence of litigation against the companies using or manufacturing the chemicals. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits need to have the studies done to help prove the case that they were harmed.
One well known example of this is the group of studies that were done during a lawsuit filed against DuPont by a farm family in West Virginia, and used to determine the harm done to this family by the release of chemicals known as PFC’s. The people bringing the suit against DuPont were forced to do toxicity studies to prove they were harmed, and that DuPont should have know they would be harmed, by the chemicals used in the Teflon manufacturing process. In that case, I believe the chemicals made their way into the water table, contaminating wells. I believe the lawsuit was eventually settled without any admission of liability, but if the toxicity studies had been required in advance, maybe adverse health consequences could have been anticipated and prevented.
My question is: Do we really want toxicity studies done only as a result of litigation and in situations where the number of people harmed, or the harm itself, is great enough to interest a law firm in taking on the case? Or should toxicity studies be required in advance, even if this would lead to increased costs and potentially only prevent harm in a small percentage of cases? I vote for the studies being more routinely required in advance.
What do you think?