Externalities – An Example, and a few Questions

My friend Harry sent me this article on a new report on some large externalities:

Existing state laws regulating the production and use of hazardous chemicals have serious gaps and fail to protect public health and the environment, according to a new report released today by researchers at UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley.

As a result of this inadequate oversight, chemical- and pollution-related diseases among children and workers in California cost the state’s insurers, businesses and families an estimated $2.6 billion in direct and indirect costs, says the report, which includes a set of recommended policy reforms for the state.

In 2004, more than 200,000 California workers were diagnosed with deadly, chronic diseases, such as cancer and emphysema, attributable to chemical exposures in the workplace, according to the report. Another 4,400 died as a result of those diseases. The new findings, based on well-established methodology for analyzing economic impact, indicate that those diseases resulted in $1.4 billion in both direct medical costs and indirect costs that include lost wages and benefits.

An additional $1.2 billion in direct and indirect costs is attributed to 240,000 cases of preventable childhood diseases related to environmental exposure to chemical substances, the report says.

So a few questions to the libertarians and folks who complain about government regulation:

1. Should anything be done about this?
2. If 1. is yes, then what?
3. Is there any course of action short of a) allowing the present situation to continue or b) those imposing the problem voluntarily deciding to compensate the victims that wouldn’t result in some sort of an outcry?
4. 4,400 people deaths a year in CA… at what point do we move from, say, a civil issue to a criminal issue? Why is it a crime to shoot one person with a gun, but not a crime to kill and injure hundreds or thousands?