“Risk” & “Hazard”: Can you tell the difference?

risk hazard

In the discussion about chemical substances and their regulation two words come up all the time: “risk” and “hazard.” While people often think they mean the same thing and in many languages there is one work to describe both, there are fundamental differences between a risk and a hazard. If a difference exists, where does BPA fit into this?

riskWhat’s a hazard?

Hazards are everywhere. May they be man-made, like noise, a chemical substance, tools, or natural, like  bacteria, animals, pond of water, or radiation, they are around us and can cause adverse effects to our health. This is because their properties have the potential to harm a person.

What’s a risk?

Contrary to popular belief, risk is the possibility a person is harmed when exposed to a hazard under specific circumstances. Being exposed to a hazard does not necessarily mean that a person will be experience adverse effects. A hazard can be triggered under specific exposure conditions and only under them will it harm human health.

How about BPA?

The mere mention of chemical substances causes goose pumps to some of us. However, a significant number of chemical substances, may they be natural, such as caffeine, or industrially-manufactured, could only cause adverse health impacts at levels that far exceed daily average exposure. For instance, the caffeine in 113 cups of coffee would be lethal to most humans – but no one drinks that much coffee.

The same is applicable to BPA. In their daily life, consumers are not exposed to the amount of BPA necessary to cause them harm. That’s even less likely considering that everybody safely inactivates and excretes the small amounts of BPA they have been exposed to during the day. Hence, even if BPA can be considered a hazard, as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reiterated in March 2015 there is “No consumer health risk from bisphenol-A exposure from foodstuff.”

Should you want more information don’t hesitate to contact us. As we have often mentioned, the University of Michigan Risk Science Center has done lucid work on educating the public about risks and hazards. If you’re a visual person, take a look at their 2012 Risk Bites video!

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