Glossary of Terms
Hazard refers to the inherent properties of a substance that make it capable of causing harm to a person or the environment.
It’s important to understand that everything around us, including the entire human body and everything we eat and drink, is entirely made of up chemicals. And all chemicals have inherent properties that can be described by hazard – even water and oxygen (it’s possible to drink too much water, and oxygen can explode).
Even though all chemicals can be described by inherent hazard, the mere presence of a chemical ingredient does not automatically mean it will cause harm. The actual chance of harm from exposure to a chemical ingredient depends on a variety of factors – including how much of the chemical ingredient is in a product; how the product is used; and what kind of exposure to the chemical typically occurs from using a product that contains the chemical.
When looking to understand how regulators assess the difference between endocrine activity and endocrine disruption, hazard screening is a fundamental tool, but alone it provides limited information that is easily misinterpreted and could result in problematic regulatory policy.
Regulating chemicals based only on hazard may lead to unwarranted action to ban or limit useful and necessary chemicals, which, in turn, may lead to unintended consequences for human health, the environment and the economy.
Modern risk assessment relies on hazard (toxicity) and exposure to assess a substance’s potential to cause adverse effects.
Exposure provides context to the risk equation by assessing the likelihood that an organism will be exposed to a sufficient dose of a particular substance to result in harm. For example, the chemical sodium fluoride can be toxic to humans, but we use it extensively in toothpaste to protect our teeth because the amount of the chemical present in toothpaste is well below any level that could cause harm. Incorporating exposure is an essential element of risk assessment and adds balance to regulatory decision-making.
An overreliance on precaution can inhibit innovation and prevent useful new technologies from entering the marketplace or, in the case of pesticides, eliminate valuable tools for farmers without actually reducing risk.