Toxic Exposure and Disease: Perspectives from the Scientific, Regulatory and Legal Communities On Causation
Written by Catherine Boston, MPH, DABT of Roux, Justin DeWitt P.E., LEED, & Joe Welter, Esq.
In the 21st century, people across the globe encounter more suspected toxins on a daily basis than any time in our planet’s history. Whether a suspected toxin increases the risk of, or causes illness/disease, is a central question that surfaces in very different ways in the scientific, regulatory, and legal communities. There are critical differences in how scientific data is viewed, interpreted, and applied when determining causation in a scientific, public health/regulatory, or legal context.
Routinely, scientists form hypotheses and study whether there is a scientifically-established causal connection between exposure to a toxin and illness or disease. By contrast, while regulatory and health-based agencies/organizations are science-driven, they tend to focus on broader questions, like whether a toxin poses a potential health hazard to the public. In the courtroom, courts and juries consider whether exposure to a toxin is a “legal” cause of an injury.
Juries are often incapable of truly understanding the differences between good and bad science, especially when well-qualified experts on both sides appear convincing. The key to solving this problem is to educate courts on how to objectively assess the literature, and only permit expert opinions that meet the high standards of truly reliable science; thus, truly fulfilling their gatekeeping role of only permitting scientifically-reliable expert opinions to support claims of toxic exposure. The scientific, regulatory, and legal fields can better support courts in their gatekeeping responsibilities by continuing this open dialogue and transparently acknowledging differing opinions, methodologies, and missions.
To read more, please click below to download a copy of the article, published by The Journal of Science and Law.