New England Chapter of the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA-NE)

List of BRAG/SRA-NE Officers

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

5:30 - 7:30 PM Program

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Tang Center/Building 51, Room 145
[Enter at the corner of Amherst and Wadsworth Streets]


Low-Level Chemical Exposures: A Challenge for Research and Public Policy

Nicholas Ashford, Ph.D., J.D.,
Professor of Technology and Policy, M.I.T., and
Adjunct Faculty, Harvard University School of Public Health and
Boston University School of Public Health

Summary: There is increasing evidence that chemical exposure levels once believed to be safe for humans-or thought to pose an insignificant risk-are, in fact, harmful. While the connection between low-level chemical exposures and diseases previously regarded as having little to do with those exposures-like cancer, endocrine disruption, neurobehavioral disorders, and chemical sensitivity-is beginning to become clear, the elucidation of this link presents an enormous and urgent challenge for both scientific research and policy-making-particularly in the current context of the increasing concern about the health effects of low-level chemical exposures expressed by environmental, health, and other governmental authorities throughout the developed world.

In this presentation, it will argued that this pressing challenge compels our society to change both (1) the way we design and interpret research linking chemicals and health and (2) the solutions we create to address chemically-caused injury. The new and emerging science that focuses on low-level exposures to chemicals requires appropriate social-policy responses, including regulation of toxic substances, notification of those exposed, and compensation for and reasonable accommodation to those affected. Additionally, both research and social policy need to be focused on two distinct groups: (1) those individuals who could become chemically intolerant-and possibly more susceptible to disease-as a result of an initiating exposure to a chemical or a chemical mixture and (2) those individuals who have already become chemically intolerant and are now sensitive or susceptible to chemicals at low levels.

Biography: Nicholas A. Ashford is Professor of Technology and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches courses in Environmental Law and Policy. He also holds adjunct faculty positions at both the Harvard and Boston University Schools of Public Health. Dr. Ashford received both a Ph.D. in chemistry and a J.D. from the University of Chicago, where he also received graduate training in economics.

Dr. Ashford served on the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board, was a public member and the chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, and also served as chairman of the Committee on Technology Innovation and Economics of the EPA's National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he also serves as an advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme. In addition, Dr. Ashford is policy and regulation editor of the Journal of Cleaner Production. He was recently appointed as co-chair of the U.S.-Greek Joint Council for Technology Cooperation in the Balkans.

Dr. Ashford is the co-author, with Claudia Miller, of Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes (John Wiley and Sons, 1998). His research interests include regulatory law and economics; the design of government policies for encouraging both technological innovation and improvements in health, safety, and environmental quality; pollution prevention and cleaner/inherently safer production; the effects of liability on the improvement of product and process safety; the health effects of low-level exposures to chemicals; sustainability, trade, and the environment; labor's participation in technological change; and environmental justice.