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Regulation of Toxic Substances in the Environment

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Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum
Water Quality - Pollutant Sources and Impacts

Capitol BuildingThe environmental awakening, ignited by Rachel Carson's 1962 book 'Silent Spring' and leading to the first Earth Day in 1970, prompted Congress to pass several laws to protect humans and wildlife from exposure to toxic substances. These laws give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the manufacture and disposal of toxic materials and to clean up existing hazardous waste disposal sites.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (1976) calls for the government to track industrial chemicals, screening them for environmental or human health hazards. If a chemical poses an unreasonable risk, its import or manufacture can be banned.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976) provides for management of hazardous waste from 'cradle to grave', i.e. generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal. A document follows the waste from 'birth' (generation) to 'death' (disposal) so that chemicals can be tracked until they are safely disposed.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (1980), also called Superfund, supports the cleanup of abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Taxes placed on the chemical and petroleum industries under Superfund and its successor SARA (Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, 1986) have provided a fund of $8.5 billion to pay for cleanup projects.

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