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In the Chamber of Risks

In the Chamber of Risks: Understanding Risk Controversies

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    In the Chamber of Risks
    Book Description:

    The essential problem is the failure to recognize that controversies over risks are "normal events" in modern society and as such will be with us for the foreseeable future. Three key propositions define these events: risk management decisions are inherently disputable; public perceptions of risk are legitimate and should be treated as such; the public needs to be intensively involved in the processes of risk evaluation and management. Leiss and his collaborators chronicle these organizational risks in a set of detailed case studies on genetically modified foods, cellular telephones, the notorious fuel additive MMT, pulp mill effluent, nuclear power, toxic substances legislation, tobacco, and the new type of "moral risks" associated with genetics technologies such as cloning.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6951-5
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Tables
    (pp. x-ix)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    • 1 Risk Issue Management
      (pp. 3-15)

      The chamber of risks is a place of many rooms. The largest and best-appointed of them is the one occupied by professional risk managers, who since the 1970s have refined and codified their approach to health and environmental risks. Their current standards of practice are models of rational decision making, leading the uninitiated in step-wise fashion from the first apprehension of a concern (in technical language, the characterization of a hazard) to its resolution, which itself is usually cast in terms of how much risk is “acceptable” in a particular case.¹ Risk managers are justifiably proud of their powerful instruments,...

    • 2 Frankenfoods; or, The Trouble with Science
      (pp. 16-40)

      In early 1995 Robert Shapiro became the new president and CEO of Monsanto, an old firm best known for its chemicals business, then with a share price of about $10. Shapiro devised a bold course of action which saw Monsanto divest itself of its chemicals business and seek to focus the new corporation on the twin pillars of agricultural and pharmaceutical products, unified under a “life sciences” designation, where new product development was based firmly on applications of biotech- nology. With a rising share price and lots of favourable publicity in the business press, Shapiro went on the acquisitions trail...

    • 3 Cellular Telephones
      (pp. 41-64)

      Sustained controversy about radio-frequency (RF) fields began in Canada when four networks began to install newer digital personal communications services (PCS) networks, first in the larger urban areas, in 1997. While the older analogue cellular telephones operate at 800–900MHZ in the high-frequency band, the PCS systems occupy the ultra-high-frequency band (around 2GHZ); this higher frequency allows the latter to operate at very low power. The output power of the base-station antennas is on the order of 100 watts each, and the handsets themselves have a maximum output power of around 1 watt. However, the low-power mode requires a clear...

    • 4 MMT, a Risk Management Masquerade
      (pp. 65-101)

      The following statement, describing a program aired on “The National Magazine” in late 1998, appeared on the CBC website.

      Canada is one of the few countries using a controversial gasoline additive: MMT, a known neurotoxin. MMT has been replacing lead in gasoline since the 1970s in Canada. Canada is one of the few countries using this product. In 1995 the Canadian government proposed banning the trade of MMT to protect health and the environment. However, minister of the environment Sergio Marchi, the MP advocating the ban of MMT, was warned his action would bring him into a NAFTA challenge he...

    • 5 Regulating Nuclear Power: The Mismanagement of Public Consultation in Canada
      (pp. 102-124)

      Nuclear power has been with us for over fifty years. As a relatively mature technology, one would expect it to possess significant social, institutional, environmental, and economic support. However, this is not the case. Nuclear power has generated considerable debate around the world and has strained democratic consultation and decision making to the point of breaking. In Canada a comprehensive debate on the social acceptability of the nuclear option has hidden behind ponderous regulation that systematically excludes the public from meaningful participation. There are several lessons to learn from this failure to practice sound risk issue management. Because newer technologies...

    • 6 Environment’s x-File: Pulp Mill Effluent Regulation in Canada
      (pp. 125-164)

      This chapter reviews the decade-long discussions about the regulation of pulp mill effluent in Canada from a specific perspective, namely, the interplay of scientific research and policy choices.¹ Those discussions began with the discovery of worrisome organochlorine compounds in the effluent – namely dioxins and furans – and towards the end of the 1980s had shifted to the so-called “AOX parameter,” used as a regulatory instrument to measure the entire class of organochlorines.² As early as 1990 serious questions were being raised about the appropriateness of AOX as an indicator of effluent toxicity; along the way, however, it was realized that pulp...


    • 7 Between Expertise and Bureaucracy: Trapped at the Interface of Science and Policy
      (pp. 167-192)

      Environmental policy and its stepchild, environmental risk management, wander the political landscape in permanent disarray, hounded by coteries of special interests awaiting the next swing of the public mood in their favour. There are two very different reasons for the disarray. One has to do with the irreducible uncertainties in environmental risk assessments, which for the most part forestall clear attributions of blame for harm done and, often, even a clear sense of just how serious the hazard itself might be. (Was it seals or birds which ripped out the stomachs of the Atlantic cod strewn on the ocean floor...

    • 8 The CEPA Soap Opera
      (pp. 193-220)

      The province of British Columbia’s Waste Management Act includes Regulation 300/90, the Antisapstain Chemical Waste Control Regulation, which is intended to prevent harm to aquatic organisms from stormwater run-off discharges to receiving waters originating at sawmill sites. The regulation, promulgated in 1990, sets numerical limits for stormwater concentrations of the specific chemicals (fungicides) used at those sites to prevent softwood lumber from succumbing to “sapstain,” a discolouration of wood produced by the activity of micro-organisms that reduces its marketability.¹ The regulation also has an overriding provision to the effect that effluents from sawmill sites “shall not be toxic,” as measured...

    • 9 Voluntary Instruments
      (pp. 221-241)

      By their very nature, environmental problems tend to be riddled with scientific uncertainties and complexities which require Herculean solutions. Yet these solutions must be formulated by multiple institutions and processes which do not themselves possess an obvious mandate, set of responsibilities, political will, legitimacy, or even practical expertise to tackle the apprehended environmental problem. Consequently, most attempts to address environmental problems in the real world are dealt with in a “muddling-through” approach, one that is readily observable in the reactions to the emergence of voluntary non-regulatory initiatives (VNRIs) as environmental policy instruments in Canada.¹

      The shift from an almost complete...

    • 10 Tobacco Uncontrolled
      (pp. 242-258)

      The global public health menace of tobacco use, as tallied in smoking-attributable illness and death, is still gaining strength, for earlier declines in the developed countries have been dwarfed by epidemic surges elsewhere in the world. Fittingly, the risk issue management and health policy dilemmas are no less intractable than smoking behaviour itself. Because the pool of victims has remained so large over such a long period of time, no risk factors are ever likely to be better described by the powerful tools of risk assessment than are those related to tobacco use. Despite this, tobacco control policy in Canada,...

    • 11 Into the Maze of Moral Risks
      (pp. 259-277)

      By now our society’s commitment to sustained technological innovation is so much taken for granted, and so fundamental a part of our economy and well-being, that if we were to be deprived of it suddenly, the world would no longer make sense to most of us.¹ No one in his or her right mind would willingly revert to the world as it was when the story I tell in this chapter begins, in sixteenth-century Europe. For then every commonplace “natural” risk in the lives of individuals, rich and poor alike – an infected tooth or limb, a difficult childbirth, a failed...

    • 12 Towards Competence in Risk Issue Management
      (pp. 278-292)

      Competence in risk issue management starts with an ability to understand that risk controversies have common structures and evolve over time in distinctive stages. The particular type of risk issue that becomes controversial is of fundamental importance to risk managers, because it determines which industrial sector and government agency is answerable to the public about its concerns. But, although controversies originate with the products and processes of many different industrial technologies and sectors (chemicals, tobacco, nuclear energy, forestry, telecommunications, petroleum, agriculture, to name but a few), the risk controversies themselves have many features in common.

      The early stage of every...

  8. Appendix: Providing Independent Expert Advice to Government and the Public
    (pp. 293-300)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 301-362)
  10. References
    (pp. 363-384)
  11. Index
    (pp. 385-388)