Keywords: risk assessment, risk management, hazard assessment, exposure assessment, precautionary principle, indeterminacy, overcomplexity, hazardous chemical regulation, ecotoxicology, complex chemical mixtures
Management of chemical exposure: the limitations of a risk-based approach
Risk assessment and risk-based management approaches are becoming incorporated into a wide range of disciplines as frameworks for use in critical decision-making pathways. During its rapid expansion, many of the assumptions, subjective judgements and irreducible uncertainties inherent within the risk paradigm are becoming increasingly overlooked. This paper provides a critical review of the processes underpinning risk assessment and management, which in turn place fundamental limitations on the utility of risk as a decision-making tool, drawing illustrative examples from the field of hazardous chemical regulations. It is argued that the risk paradigm cannot provide adequately for environmental protection and that uncertainty and indeterminacy implicit in natural systems can only be addressed through implementation of a precautionary approach. In this regard, it is essential that the Precautionary Principle be recognised not as an additional tool in a suite of risk management options but as an overarching paradigm for environmental protection.