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7 Ecology L.Q. 207 (1978-1979)
A Generic View of Toxic Chemicals and Similar Risks

handle is hein.journals/eclawq7 and id is 217 raw text is: Ecology Law Quarterly
VOL. 7                              1978                             No. 2
A Generic View of Toxic
Chemicals and Similar Risks
Talbot Page*
A new type of environmental problem is emerging which differs in
nature from the more familiar pollution and resource depletion problems.
This type of problem, which may be called environmental risk, ' has rapidly
increased in importance over the last few decades and may indeed become
the dominant type of environmental problem. Environmental risk problems
are exemplified by: the risk of leakage and contamination in the disposal of
nuclear wastes; the production of synthetic chemicals which may be toxic,
carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic; the risk /of ozone depletion due to
fluorocarbon emissions by supersonic transports; and the danger presented
by recombinant DNA of the creation and escape of a new disease against
which mankind has no natural defense.
Society is vulnerable to environmental risk problems for two reasons.
First, because environmental risk is not yet adequately recognized as a
specific type of problem, its characteristics are not well defined. A problem
inadequately defined is difficult to control. Second, the characteristics
Copyright © 1978 by Ecology Law Quarterly.
* Visiting Associate at the Environmental Quality Laboratory, California Institute of
Technology; on leave from Resources for the Future. Ph.D. 1972, Cornell University (econom-
ics). The author wishes to thank Paul Portney of RFF and the editors of the Ecology Law
Quarterly for their generous contributions in revising and editing. He also benefited from many
helpful comments from Walter Spofford, Cliff Russell, and especially Robert Harris. He
respectfully acknowledges support from the Rockefeller Foundation and from Resources for
the Future.
1. Environmental risk will be defined specifically in terms of nine characteristics
discussed infra. Risk has several distinct meanings depending on its usage. In environmen-
tal risk, the term draws attention to the potential adverse consequences, for which the
underlying probability may be highly uncertain. In this usage one speaks of the risk of cigarette
smoking, the risk of war, benefit-risk analysis, but the chance, not risk, of winning the Irish
Sweepstakes. See notes 4 and 44 infra for alternate usages of the term risk.

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