Policy ForumRISK ASSESSMENT

Estimating the health benefits of environmental regulations

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Science  04 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6350, pp. 457-458
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam8204

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Summary

Assessing health benefits of policies addressing environmental contaminants is important for decision-making and for informing the public about how policy affects their welfare (1). Benefits analysis, one side of benefit-cost analysis (BCA), can be relatively straightforward when sufficient data are available on dose-response relationships, changes in exposure expected from a proposed policy, and other key inputs. But despite progress, benefits analysis for health effects is needlessly constrained by analytic practices that are scientifically outdated and inconsistent with economic theory. These limitations can result in exclusion of important health effects from the estimated benefits of reducing exposure to toxic environmental contaminants, which, in turn, affects net benefits calculations that inform public policy. Fortunately, economic theory and scientific advances in the risk assessment literature provide a way forward.