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Ethical Issues in Toxic Chemical Hazard Evaluation, Risk Assessment and Precautionary Communications

Professional, Ethical and Legal Issues

  1. Claude Viau ScD

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470744307.gat162

General, Applied and Systems Toxicology

General, Applied and Systems Toxicology

How to Cite

Viau, C. 2009. Ethical Issues in Toxic Chemical Hazard Evaluation, Risk Assessment and Precautionary Communications. General, Applied and Systems Toxicology. .

Author Information

  1. University of Montreal, Chair of Toxicological Risk Analysis and Management, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009


Questions that are central to the examination of ethical issues in the risk-assessment process are: Who needs to be protected, against what and how? These questions attract attention to the value-laden judgement of the risk-assessment process itself. This is the background upon which potential ethical pitfalls associated with the professional act of risk assessment are examined. Scientific risk assessments should contribute to improving public health rather than to serving pure ideology of interest groups. Toxicological risk assessment is the art of translating basic toxicological and epidemiological information into recommendations for risk-management decisions. The framing of the risk questions shapes the risk assessment itself and is therefore subjected to the biases and values of those who launch the risk-management process. Ill-defined risk questions will result in ill-assessed risks. Risk questions are, in essence, complex, and attempts to simplify them may severely distort the real questions that need to be addressed. Beyond biomedical aspects, risks to health include social components that are intrinsically part of the risk and should be given appropriate consideration. The controversial precautionary principle can be used as a sound evolutionary approach to risk decision-making provided it is approached in a consistent, transparent manner.


  • ethical pitfall;
  • complexity;
  • risk assessment;
  • precautionary principle