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Challenges and opportunities in stimulating public awareness and engagement on US chemicals policy

Abstract

Consensus is growing among scientists and public health experts that unregulated, potentially hazardous chemicals threaten human and ecosystem viability. The USA is the second largest producer of industrial chemicals, yet very few of these chemicals have been tested for safety due to ineffective regulations. Empirical evidence suggests the American public is largely unaware of the health and environmental challenges posed by toxic substances, and many people are ignorant about chemicals policy and chemical use in consumer products. Chemicals policy reform is under negotiation in the US Congress for the first time in almost 40 years, and the public must be educated about the significance and impact of the various potential policy outcomes as well as how it can engage in reform efforts. Formulating and implementing effective public outreach and engagement methods will require integration of numerous scientific and professional disciplines and communication across traditional disciplinary boundaries. This paper intends to initiate a dialogue in an interdisciplinary venue about why potentially hazardous chemicals do not appear to be a significant concern to the general public and how advocates, academics, scientists, and the media can better work together to improve public education and engagement on chemicals in consumer products and chemicals policy reform. Using interview and focus group findings, evidence of limited science literacy among the American public, and an analysis of media coverage, we begin to address these issues. We invite others to build on this initial work by adding their insights, data, and knowledge to help promote public awareness and engagement on exposures to hazardous chemicals in everyday life and the need for reform of our current system of chemicals management.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Preliminary research, Scruggs and Thacher (2014), presented at the 2014 Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences Conference, entitled “Public Perception and Understanding Related to Hazardous Chemicals in Consumer Products.”

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Correspondence to Caroline E. Scruggs.

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Scruggs, C.E., Moore, R.B.B. Challenges and opportunities in stimulating public awareness and engagement on US chemicals policy. J Environ Stud Sci 6, 569–579 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-016-0387-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-016-0387-4

Keywords

  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Consumer products
  • TSCA
  • Chemicals policy
  • Science literacy
  • Media coverage
  • Public awareness