Staff Attorney Shaun Goho recently authored a paper that was accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives entitled The Legal Implications of Report-Back in Household Exposure Studies.

In a household exposure study, researchers sample the air or dust in a home and analyze those samples to determine the presence and concentration of different chemicals. It is common in such studies to notify the owners or occupants of those homes about the results of the analysis of the samples taken from their homes—a process known as report-back. Because report-back in household exposure studies provides information about the presence of potentially-harmful chemicals inside a home, it is possible that the receipt of such results will create legal duties for the study participants.

This paper is the first study to systemically examine the potential legal implications of report-back in household exposure studies. After reviewing federal and state hazardous waste laws, real estate transfer laws, landlord/tenant laws, and premises liability tort laws, Goho concludes that in most circumstances, study participants will not have any legal duties to disclose their individual study results to other people or government agencies. In the rare circumstances when such a duty will arise, it is usually when the identified chemical is one that could be harmful to the occupants of the home—meaning that the study participants are still better off learning their individual results, even if a legal disclosure duty might therefore arise.

Goho recommends that researchers should continue to share the results of household exposure studies with participants, but that they should disclose these legal risks through the informed the consent process. The paper includes recommended language for informed consent forms.

This paper results from a multi-year collaboration between the Clinic and the Silent Spring Institute.

Click here to view the abstract and review the advance publication on the Environmental Health Perspectives website.