Evolution of public participation in the assessment and management of environmental health risks: a brief history of developments in the United States

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Ken Sexton *
(*) Corresponding Author:
Ken Sexton | ken.sexton@uth.tmc.edu

Abstract

In the United States, the risk assessment − risk management paradigm that underpins federal decisions about environmental health risks was first established in 1983. In the beginning, the importance of public participation was not explicitly recognized within the paradigm. Over time, however, it has become evident that not only must risk-based decisions be founded on the best available scientific knowledge and understanding, but also that they must take account of the knowledge, values, and preferences of interested and affected parties, including community members, business people, and environmental advocates. This article examines the gradually expanding role of public participation in risk-based decision making in the United States, and traces its evolution from a peripheral issue labeled as an external pressure to an integral element of the 21st century risk assessment − risk management paradigm. Today, and into the foreseeable future, public participation and stakeholder involvement are intrinsic features of the emerging American regulatory landscape, which emphasizes collaborative approaches for achieving cooperative and cost-effective solutions to complicated and often controversial environmental health problems.

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