UCLA’s STPP has recently received a multi-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study methods to identify and promote safer alternatives applications using the toxic metal lead.

In 2005, the United States consumed an estimated 3 billion pounds of lead, a clearly toxic chemical with no safe exposure threshold. Commercially available alternatives are available for a significant number of lead uses, raising the questions of why such uses continue, and what role law can play in ending those uses.

In a limited number of instances, authorities have banned specific uses of lead. As a general matter, however, policymakers use a risk management approach to lead: setting standards for “safe” exposures and establishing work practice standards. This risk management approach permits continued broad exposure to lead, and provides extremely limited incentives for the development or adoption of safer alternatives to lead. The few bans on lead were highly politicized and ad hoc, focusing on single uses without systematic assessment of lead uses and exposures more broadly.

The project will use four case studies of different commercial or consumer uses of lead to examine the role of law in driving the substitution of toxic chemicals with safer alternatives. This research has three phases. Phase One will use publicly available information to generate a systematic assessment of the scope of lead use within the United States, mapping those uses to known exposures among workers, children, and the general public. Phase Two will develop and use an alternatives assessment methodology to analyze the four selected case studies to evaluate commercially available, safer alternatives. Phase Three will focus on two tasks. First, for each case, it will construct a conceptual model of the legal and socio-economic environment in which the businesses using lead make technology choices. Second, it will use this model to identify the legal, technical, economic, and social barriers to the adoption of viable alternatives, and evaluate potential regulatory approaches designed to overcome or mitigate those barriers.

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