Book Review: Toxics and Transnational Law: International and European Regulation of Toxic Substances as Legal Symbolism

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Reviewed by Jane Holder     

This is a huge book in terms of its scope, its aims and its contribution to the body of environmental law literature (as well as its sheer size).  And yet it is also tightly structured and closely argued: Marc Pallemaerts neatly focusses on two case studies – one dealing with the European regime for controlling toxic discharges into water, the other the evolving global regulation of international trade in hazardous pesticides. Together, these case studies open up to the reader the world of international environmental policy making, particularly as viewed from a European perspective and with environmental protection and the troubling effects of globalisation as the abiding concerns. For Pallemaerts, at issue is ‘the capacity of transnational law to function as an effective instrument of ecological modernisation while the regulatory power of the sovereign state is continually being eroded by globalisation’. In addressing this issue in an empirical way, he makes a major contribution to regulatory theory by showing that legal efforts in both of these areas have been more effective in establishing procedural obligations for states than in laying down substantive standards to govern their conduct.

Pallemaerts begins by setting out the argument that both these areas of his study are symptomatic of a wider crisis, the ‘toxification’ of the global environment by industrial activity, and also representative of the general problems involved in the development of EU and international law as instruments to control the transboundary effects of industrial pollution in a globalising economy. Transnationality is the common theme of the book: toxic emissions in water contribute to transboundary water pollution in international river basins and to pollution of the marine environment; the transnational element in the case of pesticides trade is a result of international trade patterns which cause environmental and human health effects outside the countries where they have been produced. Looking beyond this physical level, Pallemaerts also considers the many associated social and legal issues of transnationality: the mobility and ubiquity of toxic risks creates a transboundary community of interests in their control, as well as other environmental problems and gives a sense of the common fate and interest of a wide range of people.

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