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Toxicity and risk: context, principles and practice
  1. A Dayan

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    Illing P. (Pp ix + 154; £21.99) 2001. London and New York: Taylor and Francis Books Ltd. ISBN 0 415 23371 2

    “... round the rugged risks the wretched regulator ran ...” (with apologies to the old tongue twister!).

    We live in an industrialised world, where many believe we enjoy chemical gain at the cost of societal pain. As a result, the prediction and evaluation of risk and the detection or exclusion of the harm caused, most often attributed to chemicals, but not excluding physical dangers, too, such as atomic energy and transport accidents, has become a major industry in its own right. “Risk assessment” is a vital set of procedures for safeguarding the individual, the community and the environment, while still, we hope, permitting us to enjoy the benefits of various sources of risk. There are many other ways in which chemical and physical risks may occur that can imperil the individual, society, and the environment, which are little regulated but which can still be evaluated by the same mixture of philosophical and quasi-scientific procedures as are applied to the better identified risks.

    Professor Illing has written an effective short primer on the general nature of “risk” concentrated on toxicity as it may occur in industry, but not excluding medicines, domestic exposures, physical dangers, and other sources. He has provided a clear account of what such “risks” comprise, how the corresponding “hazards” may be identified, and how the resultant risks are dealt with, principally from a governmental viewpoint. He has not been afraid to bring out many of the associated problems of “risk management”, notably the essential but awkward and often covert attempt at “risk–benefit” analysis, and the consequential difficulties of “risk communication”. He shows how the former forces the risk manager to find some metric common to the risk and the benefit, so that a temperate judgement can be made of their relative worth, followed by some means of “communication”—that is, of selling the proposed solution to those affected, such as an industry which wishes to sell products or cause pollution, and workers and other voters who may have to put up with it. Political considerations form an increasing element of risk assessment and management, and although this book is written in a detached and reasonably academic fashion, the reader can never afford to forget that real or imaginary concerns about “risks” are a potent source of political agitation and unbalanced societal decision making.

    The book provides a workmanlike account of the procedures used by many in these areas, paying attention mostly to scientific aspects, and it illustrates at length many of the official organisations and procedures adopted nationally, in the European Union, and in a variety of international organisations. It does not present many new examples, not even from the field of major industrial hazards, a particular professional interest of the author, but it does provide a clear account of principles and problems, and is well illustrated with diagrams, tables, and various pictograms, which illustrate procedures employed and factors that should be considered. Care has been taken to present clear definitions and straightforward definitions. There are seven pages of up to date references, drawn from British, American, and international literature, and a helpful level of indexing.

    This book is a helpful, clear, and useful account of “risk”. It will be of equal value to students and practitioners of risk analysis, as a timely account of current ideas, and it would be of no less assistance to organisational and self appointed agitators and spokespersons, who would be helped to understand more about the position of their concerns in modern society and both how to communicate with and to understand communications from officialdom.