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Many millions of chemical compounds are known today. Of these millions, about 84,000 are on U.S. EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) inventory of existing commercial chemicals, and approximately 1000–3000 are introduced into the market every year. In the European Union (EU) under the Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) program, the registration phase resulted in 143,000 distinct chemicals registered for use in commerce. The processing, use, transport, and disposal of these chemicals present hazards to human health. This was painfully illustrated in 1985 when an accidental release of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India, caused death and injury to many thousands of people, resulted in increased public awareness of the effects of chemicals released into the environment. This incident sparked a host of international regulations aimed at preventing the recurrence of a similar tragedy. Routine and accidental releases of hazardous chemicals into air and water, and releases of hazardous waste on land continue to occur. Several recent incidents reveal the critical need for emergency preparedness for intentional releases of hazardous chemical agents. The tsunami off the coast of Japan in 2011, hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast of North and Central America in 2005, and the “superstorm” that hit the northeastern United States in 2012 caused massive devastation and highlight the need to better plan for chemical releases following natural disasters. Public health and emergency planners now focus on “all-hazards planning,” including chemical, biologic, radiologic, nuclear, and explosions (CBRNE).

The United States and the EU have the most comprehensive and complex environmental laws for the regulation of pollution. Environmental laws have traditionally been grouped according to both environmental media and the nature of pollutants: air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, hazardous waste, hazardous materials management, remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater, and registration of toxic substances and pesticides.

This chapter discusses health hazards resulting from routine, and accidental releases of hazardous chemicals and waste material into the environment and the laws that are intended to regulate polluting industries and prevent adverse health effects from occurring. This chapter is divided into three sections: routine industrial emissions, accidental releases, and hazardous waste. Each section discusses relevant health-based environmental regulations and the evaluation of potential health effects.


In our modern technologic society, industries produce an enormous variety of products using vast amounts of chemicals and numerous physical processes. All industrial processes are associated with emissions of chemicals into the air, water, and/or land. In the 1970s, the United States began to seek information on the impacts of these emissions on human and ecologic health. This section focuses on available information on the extent and public health impacts of emissions into air in the United States.

Industrial emissions include an array of familiar and unfamiliar chemicals, relatively few of which are well characterized toxicologically. While some epidemiologic studies have been useful for characterizing toxicity and the ...

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