Perception of Risks by Experts and the General Population

Communication of risks to the general public is extremely important for policy-making in consideration of toxic substances. Policy makers should be able to educate the public concerning the differences between different chemical hazards, and that the magnitude of the exposure and thus the dose is essential for assessing the magnitude of the risk. The existence of a chemi­cal hazard does not imply as such a risk to human populations. However, risk communication is usually a difficult task because the concept of risk is so difficult to understand, and, especially in a crisis, failure in risk communi­cation is the rule rather than the exception. Several investigators have exten­sively studied risk perception and risk communication between lay people and experts. They have found marked differences in the perception of risks between these groups. Especially among the lay people, the familiarity of the risk (e. g., occupational exposure vs. smoking), the magnitude of the out­come of the risk (release of a chemical in the workplace vs. car accident), and the severity of the outcome of an event (release of minute amounts of ra­don within a nuclear plant vs. fire) all have a major impact on the perception of risks (see Fig, 5.58).49 Alcohol consumption is a good example. Con­sumption of ethyl alcohol is one of the most important health hazards in in-

Risk Assessment

Not observable Unknown to those exposed, effect delayed, new risk, risks unknown to science

Nitrites d Polyvinyl chloride d

подпись: nitrites d polyvinyl chloride d

D Diagnostic x-rays

подпись: d diagnostic x-rays

Microwave ovens d

Water fluoridation d Saccharin d Water chlorine d Water chlorination d Oral contraceptives d Valium d


Antibiotics d

Lead (autos) d d Lead paint d Aspirin d Vaccines

D DNA technology d Electric fields d DES d Nitrogen fertilizers

D Radioactive waste

Nuclear reactor accidents d d Pesticides d Uranium mining d Asbestos d PCBs Nuclear weapons

Insulation d Mercury d Satellite crashes

D Coal-burning pollution


Not dread, not global catastrophic, consequences nor fatal, equitable, low risk to future generations, easily reduced risk decreasing, voluntary


Dread, global catastrophic, consequences fatal, not equitable, high risk to future generations, not easily reduced, risk increasing, involuntary

Skateboards d

Power Smoking (disease) d mowers d Snowmobiles d Trampolines d d Tractors

Chain saws d

D Downhill skiing

Home swimming pools d Recreational boating d

Bicycles d Motorcycles d Alcohol-related accidents d Fireworks d

D Carbon monoxide d Storage d Nerve gas (autos) and transport accidents

Black lung (d) of liquefied

Natural gases

D Large dams d Skyscraper fires

Nuclear weapons (war)d d Underwater construction d Sport parachutes d Coal mining accidents d General aviation

D High construction d Railroad collisions d Commercial aviation d Auto racing d Auto accidents



D Dynamite


Known to those exposed, effect immediate, old risk, risks known to science

FIGURE 5.58 Risk space has axes that correspond roughly to a hazard’s “dreadfulness” (d) and the degree to which it is understood.49

Dustrialized countries, whereas food additives or pesticide residues are nor causes of concern. Nonetheless alcohol use is considered a minor risk com­pared to the nonsignificant effect of food additives or pesticide residues. Similarly with occupational health risks, exposure to chemicals in industrial­ized countries is in most cases a minute hazard when compared to lifestyle factors. This does not mean, however, that one should not always strive to prevent industrial exposures and accidents at all times. Perception of risks is important because it ultimately determines how effectively the knowledge produced by toxicological research can be utilized in the protection of hu­man health in the occupational setting and the general environment,