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A HypotheticalFollow

#1 Aug 17 2011 at 11:44 AM Rating: Good
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Say a small widget manufacturing company set up shop in a mixed industrial/residential zoned area. Through the course of making the widgets there are likely small amounts of waste products released to the environment, however none of the chemicals have ever been known to be hazardous to the environment/human-health, nor are released quantities enough to require licensing. These are 'new' chemicals - they've never been implicated or researched.

A nearby homeowner takes ill shortly after production begins. The cause of the illness is a mystery. The homeowner suspects the new widget plant is the cause.

So, is it now the responsibility of the widget company (and/or it's chemical supplier) to insure the safety of the chemical...OR...does the homeowner need to prove that the widget company is causing him/her harm?

Lastly, where does governmental regulation fit in?
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#2varusword75, Posted: Aug 17 2011 at 11:47 AM, Rating: Sub-Default, (Expand Post) Elinda,
#3 Aug 17 2011 at 11:52 AM Rating: Good
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varusword75 wrote:
Elinda,

You're kidding right? Of course they have to prove it.


Okay, so the homeowner presents proof positive that the chemicals are reaching his property via releases into the air. The manufacturer admits to this being the case, but maintains the concentrations are negligible and the chemicals innocuous.

Any responsibility yet?





Edited, Aug 17th 2011 7:55pm by Elinda
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#4 Aug 17 2011 at 11:57 AM Rating: Excellent
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If the chemicals legitimately exist as a byproduct of their operations, it's up to the company to provide OSHA approved MSDS sheets* for them.


*Yes, like "ATM machines"
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#5 Aug 17 2011 at 12:00 PM Rating: Excellent
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I'd be surprised if they could get the neighbors sick and not have problems with their own workforce.
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#6 Aug 17 2011 at 12:01 PM Rating: Decent
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The company should be responsible for anything they produce, be it intentional or by product. Governments must insure the safety of the populace before the safety of a corporation.
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#7 Aug 17 2011 at 12:02 PM Rating: Excellent
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Oh, and although the Wiki says "potentially harmful", the onus would be on the company to prove the chemical isn't harmful -- you don't start making MSDS's when you have a pile of bodies. The sheets exist for all manner of presumably innocuous things. Here's one for corn syrup.
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#8 Aug 17 2011 at 12:03 PM Rating: Good
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Jophiel wrote:
you don't start making MSDS's when you have a pile of bodies
You start making walls.
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#9 Aug 17 2011 at 12:08 PM Rating: Good
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Jophiel wrote:
If the chemicals legitimately exist as a byproduct of their operations, it's up to the company to provide OSHA approved MSDS sheets* for them.


*Yes, like "ATM machines"
Yes, for the chemicals on-site (pre-manufacturing). Discharges are regulated by TSCA and have different reporting criteria.

Still the MSDS sheet isn't necessarily proof one way or another if the plants discharge stream is hazardous or not.

There is a method to my madness here.

I've started my capstone project for a long-ago sought after master's degree.

My paper is going to be "Regulation of New Technologies: Nanoparticles"

My question I'm getting at here is at what point is a substance/chemical/particle suspect enough that the government or the people can require toxicological studies (keeping in mind that tox studies are very expensive, and can take years).

But also our state just outlawed bpa in kid's containers - really without all the exhaustive studies being done. We're now having to defend that rule-making.
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#10 Aug 17 2011 at 12:12 PM Rating: Good
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Jophiel wrote:
you don't start making MSDS's when you have a pile of bodies.
Now you don't. The MSDA regs came about because of the 3000+ dead when Union Carbide forget to tell them the green cloud passing over their heads was methyl-isocyanate.

We have a history of regulating after much damage has been done, ie pesticides, petro-chemicals, etc etc.
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#11 Aug 17 2011 at 12:18 PM Rating: Excellent
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Elinda wrote:
Yes, for the chemicals on-site (pre-manufacturing). Discharges are regulated by TSCA and have different reporting criteria.

By-products are handled by MSDS sheets as well: "[products] known to be present in the workplace in such a manner that employees may be exposed under normal conditions of use or in a foreseeable emergency". If you're producing something, it should have a sheet.

Quote:
Still the MSDS sheet isn't necessarily proof one way or another if the plants discharge stream is hazardous or not.

It's a legitimate start over shrugging and wondering why someone is getting sick. It at least implies some measure of testing and data collection. I guess I just had a problem with the idea that they'd have never been "implicated or researched".

Hypotheticals suck, huh?
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#12 Aug 17 2011 at 12:19 PM Rating: Decent
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Elinda wrote:

My question I'm getting at here is at what point is a substance/chemical/particle suspect enough that the government or the people can require toxicological studies (keeping in mind that tox studies are very expensive, and can take years).

But also our state just outlawed bpa in kid's containers - really without all the exhaustive studies being done. We're now having to defend that rule-making.

I feel that any chemical being used in industry and/or being released into the environment, regardless of location, must be thoroughly tested, peer reviewed and all information released to the public.
As far as bpa goes there has been a lot of research done on this and other estrenogenic compounds commonly found in our environment. The real question there is, what are they replaceing the bpa with and what effects could that compound have? We live in a toxic culture and the general health of industrialized nations shows it.

Edit: spacing

Edited, Aug 17th 2011 2:20pm by Peimei
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WHM: "Did you have a plan?"
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#13 Aug 17 2011 at 12:21 PM Rating: Excellent
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Elinda wrote:
Jophiel wrote:
you don't start making MSDS's when you have a pile of bodies.
Now you don't.

Well, yeah. That was my point.
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#14 Aug 17 2011 at 12:53 PM Rating: Decent
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In addition to MSDS, there's Toxicological Risk Assestments and formula testing via protocols as dsecribed ASTM, ETL, etc. Extensive detailing of short term exposure and chronic risk are federally mandated.

In addition, any new manufacturing operation would undergo extensive testing for environmental impact. They'd never allow you to set up shop under the classification that the chemicals are "new".

In short, the corporation is always liable and can be sued by any jackass who trips on their curb.
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#15 Aug 17 2011 at 3:38 PM Rating: Good
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NephthysWanderer wrote:
In addition to MSDS, there's Toxicological Risk Assestments and formula testing via protocols as dsecribed ASTM, ETL, etc. Extensive detailing of short term exposure and chronic risk are federally mandated.

In addition, any new manufacturing operation would undergo extensive testing for environmental impact. They'd never allow you to set up shop under the classification that the chemicals are "new".

In short, the corporation is always liable and can be sued by any jackass who trips on their curb.
In the case of nanoparticles though they are new and they're not regulated - not based on particle size anyways. Substances act very differently when they're nano-sized particles. This is why they're being produced and used in LOTS of stuff. There is some research going on, mostly by the military and the Army Corp of Engineers (of all people), but as I mentioned tox-studies can take years, and lots of money. In the meantime there is little regulation/research on product safety, worker safety or environmental safety, but enough knowledge to cause concern. California is the only state regulating nano-waste as most of the nano-research is being done in silicon valley, but it's really still in it's infancy.

As for other chemicals such as bpa, regulating them is still really controversial. As I mentioned, our state has banned them in kids products, the feds have not regulated them at all in consumer products. EPA, USDA, and CDC all have separate studies going on but as yet there is little hard evidence about alleged endocrin disrupters. Britain banned PBA a couple years ago. In fact, lots of the cheap plastic stuff we get here in the states, the stuff you find at the dollar stores and what-not are products rejected by the Europeans because of various chemical compounds in them (phthalates, bpa, mercury and other heavy metals).

edit - Hi Neph Smiley: smile



Edited, Aug 17th 2011 11:40pm by Elinda
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#16 Aug 17 2011 at 3:51 PM Rating: Decent
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Ooooohh...didn't know we were talkin' bout no nanoparticles.

Hi. :)
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#17 Aug 17 2011 at 8:01 PM Rating: Decent
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someproteinguy wrote:
I'd be surprised if they could get the neighbors sick and not have problems with their own workforce.

That's why the smokestacks are so tall. Keep it away from the workers and let those downwind worry about it.
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#18 Aug 17 2011 at 8:47 PM Rating: Excellent
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I think that there's no good single answer to your question really, either in terms of responsibility or requirement for testing. It's a process, and it involves a back and forth between the industry, the government, and the public. Obviously, if we test every single thing for every possible negative effect, it will take too long and cost too much. Equally obviously, we should focus on likely culprits based on past experience and chemical knowledge.

Some things will slip through though. They always do. Chemical compounds that are completely safe in one state could be toxic in another. Things that are safe in one concentration may cause harm in another. Things that are fine when separate may be combined in new ways which are dangerous. Most of the time we have an idea of the potential risks of making new things, but sometimes we just don't.

When you look at the history of toxic effects from industrial activities, you occasionally see examples of negligence (and they tend to make a huge impact), but most of the time it's just plain not knowing that something will be harmful. Asbestos is a great example of this. Seemingly harmless material, but breathe it for 30+ years and it'll build up in the pores of the lungs, clogging them and causing severe medical problems. Ooops!

We test for harmful effects, but the honest fact is that the tests we use are based on past cases of known methods of causing harm. Until we have a non-biologically interacting substance that is just the right size to lodge in the lungs, degrading their performance over time (cause they don't biodegrade!), we aren't likely to think to look for it or test for it. That sucks, but we live in an imperfect world.


And that's without getting into specific individual sensitivities. We see people with sensitivities to all sorts of things which for 99.99% of the population are perfectly safe. It's absurd to think that some new thing wont also trigger a random sensitivity in someone as well. But that's nearly impossible to test for it even if you try. A better way to think about it is that someone *will* have a reaction to any and every material you are using, producing, releasing into the air, etc. The question is how common is the reaction and how harmful is it when it happens?


One person getting sick out of a whole community? Could be something unrelated. Could be a reaction to something at the plant. Obviously, if you can show that something at the plant is causing it, then the company is responsible for the harm. As someone else said, lack of intent doesn't remove responsibility for the result. However, proving a connection can be difficult in that case. We normally prove such things by correlating results. This somewhat requires repeating the same or similar response in someone else, or in some other way being able to reproduce whatever the effect is and show it's caused by something from the plant. Tricky, but possible.


As to nano-stuff? I say neato!
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#19 Aug 17 2011 at 8:56 PM Rating: Excellent
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So if the nanoparticles ARE theoretically making the other person sick, can you charge them with theft of trade secrets? I mean, those are propriatary nanoparticles.
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