Sponsored By
Clare Goldsberry

April 8, 2016

4 Min Read
Warning: Life involves risk

Acceptable risk refers to the level of human and property loss that can be tolerated by an individual, household, group, organization, community, region, state or nation, according to the legal definition found at USLegal.com, and is usually calculated in actions taken to minimize risk. “The concept of acceptable risk evolved partly from the understanding that absolute safety is generally an unachievable goal, and that even very low exposures to certain toxic substances may confer some level of risk,” said the website.

Image courtesy Stuart Miles/

There is inherent risk to all life from the moment life of any kind appears, and it is up to each of us to decide what acceptable risk is for us. For example, whether we think about it or not, every morning when we wake up and hop out of bed we are taking a risk. If we thought about it, we might decide that staying in bed is less risky than getting up and going to work. After all, it’s been shown that most heart attacks happen early in the morning just after waking up. Getting into our cars to drive to work is also risky. On average, according to the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration, there are approximately 32,000 deaths on the nation’s highways each year.

But when you look at the number of vehicles on the highways each day and the number of people in these vehicles, 32,000 isn’t really such a high number. And we certainly don’t ban cars just because 32,000 people die in car crashes every year. In other words, with a relatively low percentage of all the people traveling the highways by cars, trucks and busses each year, 32,000 deaths make driving—or riding in—a vehicle an acceptable risk. So we get dressed, get in our cars or on the bus or subway, and go to work.

The issues of the “dangers” surrounding certain polymer materials such as BPA, phthalates and PVC are often grabbed by certain non-government organizations (NGOs). Their purported interest in exposing companies whose products contain these “dangerous” and “toxic” chemicals is the health and safety of “families” and particularly “children,” but they only serve to promote the hype.

Jon Entine, a contributor to the Sept. 18, 2012, issue of Forbes, looked at how the hype overshadows the science for these NGO activist groups, in spite of global food safety and health organizations pronouncing the safety of BPA. “International science-based government agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority (2011), World Health Organization (2011) (2008), German Society of Toxicology and Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (2011), Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (2011, Butch Food and consumer Product Safety Authority (2008), Health Canada, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (2012), Japan’s Research Institute of Science for Safety and Sustainability (2011) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on four separate occasions over the past four years have consistently found BPA safe as commonly used, such as in can liners,” Entine wrote.

Entine said that he believes these NGOs that constantly go after large corporations “under the banner of ‘child safety’ to lobby for bans on a range of chemicals . . . are obsessed by what is known as the ‘precautionary principle.’” This principle was developed in the “hyper-progressive 1970s” and offers up the argument that “innovative science—old technologies, such as chemicals, or newer ones, such as genetic modification—should be shelved or suspended indefinitely because scientists cannot prove without a doubt that their use is safe.”

However, the hundreds of scientific and environmental agencies around the world do not base their findings on the absolute, indisputable safety of products (precaution) but on risk, Entine noted. And that takes us back to the idea of “acceptable risk” and how much risk we willingly accept every day of our lives. We all take risks every day, most of them deemed “acceptable.” Those that are unacceptable to us we usually avoid. I would never climb a mountain or go rock climbing or even jump out of a perfectly good airplane and freefall for several hundred feet just for fun. But lots of people do those things knowing that it could result in their death. To them, that is an acceptable risk.

As Entine concludes in his article, “Life involves choices and trade-offs. Science is rarely black and white. Will we make science based on choices or empirical evidence or will they be driven by precautionary hysteria? Let’s see if the science media can right the ship on the BPA story.”

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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