4. Reduction of Toxics in Use

The second line of defence against avoidable carcinogenic exposures is the reduction or phase-out of toxics in use in the wide range of petrochemical and other carcinogenic products and processes already established in commerce. Strategies based on toxics use reduction - phasing out the manufacture, use and disposal of carcinogenic and otherwise toxic chemicals, coupled with their replacement by safe alternative technologies - are not only practical but cost-effective. The effectiveness of such strategies clearly depends on the establishment of an explicitly defined strict schedule for the shortest feasible phase-out time, and for monitoring industry compliance.

Such initiatives were strongly endorsed at the February 4, 1992, press conference, recommending reform of the US cancer establishment and reorienting its priorities to cancer prevention, in which major emphasis was directed to toxics use reduction (Epstein, 1998):

'In close co-operation with key regulatory agencies and industry, the NCI should initiate large scale research programs to develop non-carcinogenic products and processes as alternatives to those currently based on chemical and physical carcinogens. This program should also include research on the development of economic incentives for the reduction or phase out of the use of industrial carcinogens, coupled with economic disincentives for their continued use, especially when appropriate non-carcinogenic alternatives are unavailable.'

It should be stressed that toxics use reduction is based on the principle of risk prevention in sharp contrast to the 'risk management' strategies strongly favoured by industry, a growing battery of handsomely funded industry hacks and right wing think tanks, such as the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, The Hudson, Cato and Competitive Enterprise Institutes, The American Policy Center, and the International Life Sciences Institute, specialising in 'risk assessment', and complicit regulatory agencies (Rampton and Stauber, 2000). Risk management accepts the inevitability of risk from industrial processes and products while claiming that such risks can be managed to levels variously described as 'acceptable (or) insignificant (or) minimal'. These claims are derived from highly dubious, if not manipulated, risk assessment mathematical formulae shaped by predetermined financial or regulatory interests claiming to predict minimal deaths anticipated from any particular carcinogenic exposure.

Following a well-organised political campaign by environmental groups, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts unanimously passed the 'Toxics Use Reduction Act' in 1989 which created the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Program (TURA, 1989). The Act is a specific form of pollution prevention that focuses on reducing the use of toxic chemicals and generation of hazardous waste by improving and redesigning industrial products and processes. The Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, played an important role in developing the Act by providing education, training, research on new materials and processes, a technical library and information source, and specialised laboratories for evaluating alternative safe technologies. The achievements of this Act include: reducing the generation of toxic wastes from 1989 to 1997 by 50 per cent by reducing toxics use by 20 per cent; establishing toxics use reduction as the preferred means for achieving compliance with federal and state environmental statutes; promoting reduction in the production and use of toxic chemicals; enhancing and strengthening the enforcement of existing environmental laws; promoting co-ordination between state agencies administering toxics-related programs; and sustaining and promoting the competitiveness of Massachusetts industry (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 1997).

The Massachusetts Act could also serve as a useful model for national and state US, besides international, legislation. The active interest of mainstream industry in such initiatives could well be encouraged by granting tax incentives for the urgent development of safe alternatives to conventional toxic-based conventional technologies, and tax penalties for failure to adopt available safe alternative technologies.

The relatively new trend to voluntary and economy-driven corporate environmentalism may prove more potent than ideologically and legislatively-driven toxics use reduction (Anon., 1999a). A major development in this trend is the selling of services and functions rather than products (Anon., 1999b). For instance, the US Atlanta-based Interface, Inc. leases floor covering services and recycles old carpets rather than selling carpets which otherwise must be eventually incinerated or dumped in landfills (Interface, Inc., 1999). Similarly, Xerox now leases copiers and recycles old models. A parallel development is Eco-efficiency and Pollution Prevention (E2 P2), typified by the growing investment of Royal Dutch Shell, Amoco and British Petroleum in renewable sustainable energy sources, including wind, solar power and fuel cells, and in extending product ranges to improved gasoline mixes (Anon., 1999c). While cynicism from citizen groups may be reasonably anticipated, considering the past environmental track record of these companies, these initiatives should nevertheless be welcomed. Additionally, the potential mutually reinforcing role of legislative and market place pressures should be fully recognised.

A further example of the role of market place pressures which merits legislative recognition and support relates to consumer products - food, cosmetics and toiletries, and household products. The growth of organic and non-toxic non-mainstream products in US markets has reached double digit annual figures over the last decade. A 1995 published rating of some 4,000 conventional mainstream and safe non-mainstream products for undisclosed carcinogenic ingredients and contaminants has resulted in a significant market shift away from hazardous to safe products which are becoming more and more price competitive (Epstein, 1998; Steinman and Epstein, 1995).

Clearly, such health-driven market place pressures depend on a fully informed public and recognition of their right-to-know of involuntary and avoidable exposures to carcinogens in consumer products, besides in air, water, and the workplace. Such knowledge and concerns have been recently reflected by the success of non-price competitive safe products. Illustrative are the booming sales of a leading sportswear manufacturer, Patagonia, which has completely converted to organic cotton by the use of well-established integrated pest management strategies (Anon., 1999a); this is particularly important as cotton is the most pesticide-intensive US crop, accounting for 10 per cent of all national pesticide use. These concepts have been recently amplified and extended into a new paradigm for a system called 'natural capitalism' which has set a landmark agenda for a rational and ecologically sound concept of industrial development (Hawken et al., 1999).