Regulating Cumulative Risk

85 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2016 Last revised: 17 Jan 2018

See all articles by Sanne H. Knudsen

Sanne H. Knudsen

University of Washington - School of Law

Date Written: October 19, 2016


Chemicals and pesticides permeate the natural world. They are woven (sometimes quite literally) into the fabric of our lives. Because chemicals are everywhere, the key to protecting public health in the chemicals age is regulating cumulative risk – that is the combined risk from exposure to multiple chemicals and pesticides through various exposure pathways.

While necessary, and increasingly feasible through evolutions in risk science, issues of cumulative exposure have largely been a blindspot in our regulatory efforts and a glaring omission in the dialogue about regulatory reform. Scholars too have been curiously silent.

The time is ripe to bring cumulative risk from regulatory fringe to center stage. Earlier this summer, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. While the Act does not directly tackle issues of cumulative exposure, it does leave room for regulators to adopt a cumulative risk lens. Similarly, federal legislation governing pesticide regulation would support a greater regulatory commitment to cumulative risk.

Because enacting new legislation will not fix old problems unless regulators place issues of cumulative risk at the center of the regulatory landscape, this paper explains why such a paradigm shift is necessary and permissible. In fact, cumulative risk is so central to the protection of public health that the failure to consider such risk may amount to arbitrary and capricious decision-making.

Keywords: Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), chemical exposure, risk assessment, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), population-level analysis, information disclosure

Suggested Citation

Knudsen, Sanne H., Regulating Cumulative Risk (October 19, 2016). Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 101, No. 6, Pp. 2313-96 (2017), University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2016-19, Available at SSRN:

Sanne H. Knudsen (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


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