Center for Progressive Reform

Legally Poisoned

How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants

Take a random walk through your life and you’ll find it is awash in industrial, often toxic, chemicals. Sip water from a plastic bottle and ingest bisphenol A. Prepare dinner in a non-stick frying pan or wear a layer of Gore-Tex only to be exposed to perfluorinated compounds. Hang curtains, clip your baby into a car seat, watch television—all are manufactured with brominated flame-retardants. 

Cosmetic ingredients, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and other compounds enter our bodies and remain briefly or permanently. Far too many suspected toxic hazards are unleashed every day that affect the development and function of our brain, immune system, reproductive organs, or hormones. But no public health law requires product testing of most chemical compounds before they enter the market. If products are deemed dangerous, toxicants must be forcibly reduced or removed—but only after harm has been done. 

In his latest book, Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants, published by Harvard Univesity Press, CPR Member Scholar Carl Cranor offers up a scientifically rigorous legal analysis arguing that just as pharmaceuticals and pesticides cannot be sold without pre-market testing, other chemical products should be subject to the same safety measures. Cranor shows, in terrifying detail, what risks we run, while making clear that it is entirely possible to design a less dangerous commercial world.


What other experts have said about Legally Poisoned:

Both passionate and incisive, this book reveals how much we have failed to control the spread of toxic chemicals in our environment and our bodies. Our laws are ineffective at preventing the use of toxicants in the first place, and unbearably slow at stopping them once damage has been done. Carl Cranor recommends reforms to protect the public health that are thorough, pragmatic--and necessary.

Ellen Silbergeld, Johns Hopkins University

In the early 21st century, our bodies are permeated by everything from preservatives to fire retardants, which have poured into the market and into the world for decades without consistently rigorous testing for safety. Legally Poisoned shows just how little our current laws protect us, and particularly our children. Pointing out that individual self-protection is impossible, Cranor makes a powerful case for pre-market testing by manufacturers, and the consequences for public health if we continue to discover chemical dangers only after the harm is done.

 John Strait Applegate, Indiana University

Drawing from a wealth of scientific and legal sources, Cranor exposes the frightening failures of U.S. toxics policy that effectively allow children to be used as guinea pigs in assessing the safety of chemical products, and offers reform proposals for a safer and more just world.

Wendy Wagner, University of Texas at Austin



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