From high levels of lead found in school drinking water to industry sites releasing toxic heavy metals into the air, over 40 years of regulations in the United States have failed to protect human and environmental health from toxic chemicals.

In a new paper published in BioScience, Portland State University researchers contend that these failures result from the flawed governance over the continued production, use and disposal of toxic chemicals, and lay out a plan for improved policies.

"We keep trying to mitigate, but it hasn't been working for 40 years," said Zbigniew Grabowski, one of the authors and a recent graduate of PSU's Earth, Environment and Society doctoral program.

He said investments need to be made into not only investigating the consequences of toxic substances, but more importantly, finding alternative ways of producing goods and services that don't generate those toxic substances.

"You could spend multiple careers trying to assess the public costs of toxic lead in drinking water, but why not work in the same lifetime on figuring out how to produce water systems that don't make people sick?"

The lead authors, recent doctoral graduates from PSU's environmental science, public administration and political science programs, looked at toxic chemical governance through five high-profile case studies: lead in school drinking water, heavy metals in industry, sulfur and nitrogen oxides emitted by fossil fuel combustion, BPA in packaging that can leach into food and drinks, and glyphosate, one of the most commonly applied pesticides in the U.S.

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