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Volume 27, Issue 10 — October 1997


Regulatory Framework for the Management and Remediation of Contaminated Marine Sediments

by Kenneth S. Kamlet and Peter Shelley

Editors' Summary: In 1989, a National Research Council study concluded that contaminated sediments are "widespread in U.S. coastal waters" and have "potentially far-reaching consequences to both public health and the environment." A 1996 interim EPA report reached a similar conclusion. This concern over contaminated sediments is not new. It has manifested itself in a dizzying array of statutory and regulatory restrictions on the disposal of these sediments. In this Article, two members of the Marine Board Committee on Contaminated Marine Sediments explain this complex framework of legal requirements. The Article begins with an examination of the law governing navigation dredging and sediment placement. It then discusses the relevant provisions of CERCLA, the FWPCA, the biennial Water Resources Development Acts, and federal laws authorizing state programs that apply to contaminated sediments. Finally, it examines how these various provisions interact and suggests ways in which this legal framework could be improved.


U.S. Adherence to Its Agenda 21 Commitments: A Five-Year Review

by John Dernbach and the Widener University School of Law Seminar on Law and Sustainability

In June 1992, delegates from nearly every nation in the world, including 107 heads of state or government, participated in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. Their most important work was Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action for sustainable development.1 The United States, led by President George Bush, endorsed Agenda 21. Agenda 21 was premised on the simple and appealing idea that the real work of the conference would occur afterwards, in a variety of contexts, all over the world. The ultimate success or failure of UNCED, in other words, depends on whether the problems that led to the conference are actually addressed.

Five years later, in June 1997, the United Nations General Assembly met in New York to assess the progress that nations have made in carrying out their Agenda 21 commitments.2 The Rio-plus-five review produced critical reflection and evaluation of how well individual countries have done, and what they should be doing next. Despite some positive actions since UNCED, the General Assembly concluded that "overall trends for sustainable development are worse today than they were in 1992."3 The General Assembly also reaffirmed Agenda 21 as the global blueprint for sustainable development. In fact, the only document that emerged from the meeting was a Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21.4 The General Assembly scheduled the next comprehensive review of progress implementing Agenda 21 for five years hence, in 2002.5

Hormesis Revisited: New Insights Concerning the Biological Effects of Low-Dose Exposures to Toxins

by Edward J. Calabrese, Ph.D.

One of the most fundamental tenets of toxicology is that "the dose determines the poison." This simple phrase provides the basis for the belief that all agents—chemicals and physical phenomena that are capable of producing some effect—have the potential to cause toxicity. Whether toxicity actually occurs is principally a matter of dose: the greater the exposure to a given agent, the more pronounced or severe the response of a cell or organism. While this is obvious for well-known poisons such as cyanide, arsenic, lead, and pesticides, it is also true that essential substances such as vitamins, minerals, and even oxygen are toxic at excessive doses.

The tenet that the dose determines the poison provides the basic framework for how toxicologists assess the "hazard potential" of chemical products and materials. The goal of such assessments is to determine the levels of exposure that cause harmful effects, the nature of those effects, and the so-called safe level of exposure. Toxicological testing is designed, therefore, to determine what toxicologists call the dose-response relationship. Investigators attempt to describe how a given chemical affects the body at varying doses ranging from very high to very low. The type of information these studies yield will hopefully lead to a determination of the threshold that separates a safe exposure from the early stages of toxicity. While establishing evidence of a true toxicity threshold is often complicated, the belilef is that such thresholds exist for each harmful effect and that they can be determined from toxicology studies.