familiarity of risk









killing many individuals is perceived as riskier than the chance of an auto accident killing one or two people. Although the severity of a plane crash is higher, the probability of occurrence is much lower, thus the risk may be lower. In addition, delayed effects, such as cancer, are dreaded more than immediate effects such as poisoning.

Determining the acceptability of a risk to society is a social, not scientific, decision. This determination is influenced greatly by public perception of the risk, and is often reflected in legislation. The variation in the perception of risk can be related to the determination of an acceptable level of risk with various value judgments superimposed upon these perceptions. For example, laboratory tests identified saccharin as an animal carcinogen, requiring the FDA to ban it. However, the U.S. Congress determined that using saccharin was an acceptable risk, and prevented a ban due to perceived public benefits. No absolute answer can be provided to the question, "How safe is safe enough?" Determining acceptable levels of risk and making those value judgments is a very difficult and complex task.

To determine the acceptable risk for noncarcinogens, a safety factor is applied. Although it is rooted in science, selection of a safety factor is more of a rule of thumb, or an art. This factor is used when determining the safe dose to humans to compensate for uncertainties in the extrapolation process. This safe dose is known as the acceptable daily intake (ADI). The ADI amount of a chemical should not cause any adverse effects to the general human population even after long-term, usually lifetime, exposure. An ADI is calculated by dividing the NOAEL by a safety factor.

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