Sample Ethics Essay Paper on Risk Assessment and Environmental Ethics


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides guidelines for conducting environmental risk assessments. Risk assessment in this regard entails an evaluation of hazards and their probability of occurrence. In the past, risk assessment involved a simple consideration of the potential for harm in every hazard. However, advancements in sensitivity in both ethical and social concerns have led to reduction in the credibility of risk assessment strategies. In comparison to the past, the present-day risk assessment strategies are focused on providing conceptual clarifications on various aspects of bioethics when it comes to environmental preservation. According to Mayo and Spanos, consideration of sensitivity to various aspects and the conceptual clarification provided by risk assessments cannot be sufficient for providing a comprehension of evidence based debates on the concept. The ensuing essay provides various perspectives on the consideration of risk assessment with the objective of understanding the reasons behind credibility loss and new paradigms towards risk assessment.

Risk Assessment Evaluation

Many paradigms have been developed in the past for performing risk assessments in various environmental contexts. For instance, Wolff (418) discusses the conceptual understanding of risk assessment in association with moral standings. According to the paper by Wolff, safety regulations are considered to be moral issues. This is related to the concept of risk assessment because the key objective of risk assessment is to enhance safety. Regulation of safety considers individual and organizational moral obligations to protect others. The authors further discuss the impacts of knowingly putting others at risk in line with bioethical concerns. In the study by Mayo and Spanos, risk assessment judgments are described as to be interwoven with value judgments as well as with ethical judgments (803). This brings about discrepancies between perceived outcomes of risk assessment in terms of accuracy and credibility and the actual outcomes realized. Similarly, the interlock between risk assessment and ethical values brings about challenges to contemporary risk assessment practices and to their applications to the environmental context.

The Committee for Improving Risk Analysis Approaches discusses some of the challenges faced in contemporary risk assessment. According to the committee, the main reasons mentioned for the loss of credibility in risk assessment are varied. Risk assessment is described as a subject that warrants political, public and scientific scrutiny in the present day hence the many challenges posted. This implies that traditional methods that solely relied on the presence of acceptable evidence are no longer recommended for risk assessment and evaluation. The Committee mentions some of the challenges faced in contemporary risk assessment. For instance, regulatory risk assessment is said to be faltering (3). Regulatory assessment in this context refers to the R.A practices conducted on chemicals and manufacturing practices to determine their environmental impacts. Chemicals such as formaldehyde are reported to take significantly long periods of time for their risk evaluation to be complete. As the assessments progress, the chemicals continue being in use resulting in the impossibility of depending on the assessment credibility to maintain safety.

Furthermore, the Committee for Improving Risk Analysis Approaches (CIRAP) also discusses the reduced significance of R.A based decision making. Uncertainty, which is common in most scientific data results in ambiguity of R.A interpretations and subsequently in a decision- making gridlock. Furthermore, the intertwining of risk assessment and the concerns of the society makes it more difficult for stakeholders such as consumers, manufacturing industries and environmental organizations to participate in the risk assessment process (CIRAP 3). As such, decisions involving more than one group of stakeholders reach a gridlock due to the differing perspectives represented by each of the stakeholder groups. The challenges posed by such problems imply that the EPA has to find new strategies for ensuring that risk assessment fulfills its objectives.

Mayo and Spanos discuss the conflict between acceptable evidence and the role of risk management in maintaining safety. In the study conducted by the two authors, they model a framework that considers the relevance of the perceived acceptable evidences in the conduct of risk assessment and risk management. The authors assert that acceptable evidences may be found for the presence of risk. However, the same evidences may not indicate the actual presence of risk. This brings about the conflict between what should be considered as acceptable evidence and what should constitute rationale for further investigations (Mayo and Spanos 815). The distinction of the two could go a long way in helping to put in place proper structures for risk management which also take into consideration the ethical concerns and societal concerns in risk management.

Changing Risk Assessment Frameworks

The emphasis on the loss of credibility of risk assessment strategies by different authors brings about the need to focus on alternative risk assessment strategies and objectives. CIRAP discusses the need for assessing the variability and uncertainty presented by risk assessment data (6). In the report by CIRAP uncertainty can be reduced in risk assessment through the use of more accurate data in the evaluation process. Dependence on the link between risk and hazard probability is unreliable as a source of risk assessment information and is thus worth eliminating. On the other hand, doing away with variability in risk assessment is more challenging as variability is inevitable in the risk characteristics as well as the potential victim characteristics.

Wolff attributes loss of credibility in risk assessment to the theoretical models often applied in risk assessment. According to Wolff, most of the risk assessment strategies employ either fear reduction or risk reduction frameworks. The fear reduction framework is founded on the premise that people fear harmful events (Wolff 419). As such, all risk assessment procedures are conducted with the objective of reducing harm to organizations or to individuals. This brings about skewed risk perceptions as people are most likely to rate risks depending on their perceived harms. At the same time, harm perception can be relative from one person to another. The implementation of any risk mitigation measures following such fear reduction driven risk assessment may not result in long term sustainability. Risk reduction theoretical frameworks are on the other hand more traditional and apply standard analytical procedures. For instance, Wolff (412) describes the risk cost- benefits analytical procedures used in risk mitigation. This is done with the argument that such practices are conducted not to eliminate risk but to reduce it significantly. Risk mitigation measures are only taken when the cost of risk reduction is less than the cost that would be incurred by leaving the risks pending. Probabilistic hazard calculations are also used as an alternative risk reduction driven measure. In this case, the risk is valued at the product of the hazard and its probability of occurring (Wolff 418).

Wolff provides a blue print for conducting environmental risk assessments based on a paradigm shift from the society driven perspective and the risk perception to a more accurate strategy. According to Wolff (421), this would provide an effective opportunity for bioethicists to develop frameworks for safety enhancement through risk assessment.  He proposes elimination of methods based on risk modeling factors like fear, shame, anxiety, influence and malice in risk assessment practices. This means that Wolff views these factors as the motivations behind the R.A loss of credibility and the misrepresentations due to variability and uncertainty. In his argument however, Wolff asserts that most of the risk assessment practices are founded on the wrong premises of the factors mentioned above, hence are bound to represent personal feelings rather than actual needs of organizations. Credible risk assessments can thus be conducted only once such feelings are eliminated from the picture.


The discourse on risk assessment in the environmental ethics context presents many facets to the perception of risk management. As some authors posit that the interweaving of risk management and evidence acceptability are causes of ambiguity, others emphasize more on the prevalence of uncertainty and variability in risk assessment. Many challenges present in the confirmation of risk assessment credibility especially due to societal and ethical changes. For instance, the prolonged duration of risk assessment completion and the ambiguity in interpretation of risk assessment results are some of the challenges faced by stakeholders in the performance of risk assessment. Understanding risk analysis in the contemporary times therefore proves to be challenging especially when the focus is on conceptual clarification and on ethical values. Social values also play an important role in the determination of risk assessment suitability and its impacts on the societal wellbeing.

Works Cited

Committee on Improving Risk Analysis Approaches. Science and decisions: Advancing risk assessments (free executive summary). National Academy of Sciences, 2008.

Mayo, Deborah and Spanos, Aris. Philosophical scrutiny of evidence of risks: From bioethics to bio-evidence. Philosophy of Science, vol. 73 (2006): 803- 816.

Wolff, Jonathan. Risk, fear, blame, shame and the regulation of public safety. Economics and Philosophy, vol. 22 (2006): 409- 427.