The U.S. government's environmental regulatory apparatus is about to be challenged in a fundamental way by a novel technology that can--for the first time--measure whether there is cancer risk from minute quantities of chemicals and nuclear radiation. A newly developed supersensitive method--up to 100,000 times more sensitive than any now available--can establish whether genetic material in human cells has been damaged, an initial step that can lead to cancer.

Scientific advances inevitably call for a re-examination and possible overhaul of policies. Regulatory agencies, invoking the "precautionary principle," have fought long and hard against accepting the concept of a risk "threshold," below which radiation or chemicals do not induce cancer. Evidently, bureaucrats seem to ignore the fact that we are constantly exposed to small amounts of naturally occurring radiation and to natural cancer-causing chemicals in every bite of food we eat.

In dealing with cancer risk, we want to know: What...

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