Application of the De Minimis Concept in Risk Management

  • Chris Whipple
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Risk Analysis book series (CIRA, volume 2)


In risk regulation and management, de minimis refers to the general theme that some risks are too small to be of societal concern. It is easy to show that all organizations with risk management responsibilities use some type of de minimis approach, since risk management resources are always finite, and the supply of very small risks virtually inexhaustible. To cite just one example, the prohibition of carcinogenic food additives under both the Delaney Clause and earlier food safety laws is commonly cited as a “zero risk” policy statement that is as protective as any risk policy on the federal level. Even so, no serious consideration has ever been given to the idea that the Food and Drug Administration should ban food additives that contain a radioactive molecule or two, since that would include virtually all substances. While all organizations with risk management responsibility follow some pragmatic de minimis approach, there has been a series of proposals (see Chapter 13 and Davis1 for a general review of the issue) for explicit adoption of the de minimis concept by regulatory agencies.


Risk Management Individual Risk Small Risk Risk Regulation Risk Policy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    J. P. Davis, The Feasibility of Establishing a De Minimis Level of Radiation Dose and a Regulatory Cutoff Policy for Nuclear Regulation, General Physics Corporation Report GP-R-33040, Columbia, Maryland, December 31, 1981.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    B. Ames, “Dietary Carcinogens and Anticarcinogens,” Science 221(4617): 1256–1264, September 23, 1983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    S. S. Epstein, J. B. Swartz, et al., letter to Science, V. 224,N. 4650, May 18, 1984, and reply by B. Ames.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    W. R. Havender, “The Science and Politics of Cyclamates,” The Public Interest, N. 71, Spring 1983.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    A. Scala, “A Note on the Benzene Case,” Regulation, July/August 1980.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    E. Marshall, “EPA Regulators Take on the Delaney Clause,” Science V. 224, N. 4651, May 25, 1984.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    B. Fischhoff, P. Slovic, S. Lichtenstein, S. Read, and B. Combs, “How Safe is Safe Enough? A Psychometric Survey of Attitudes Towards Technological Risks and Benefits,” Policy Sciences V. 8, pp. 127–152, 1978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    G. Calabresi and P. Bobbitt, Tragic Choices, W. W. Norton and Co., New York, 1978.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    N. Rothschild, “Coming to Grips with Risk,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 1979.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Committee on the Institutional Means for Assessment of Risks to Public Health, National Research Council, Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1983.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    J. H. Gibbons, in Public Policy, Science, and Environmental Risk, proceedings of a workshop at the Brookings Institution on February 28, 1983, edited by S. Panem, The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., 1983.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    National Radiological Protection Board, The Application of Cost-Benefit Analysis to the Radiological Protection of the Public: A Consultive Document,Harwell, Didcot, Oxon. OXI1ORQ, HMSO, March 1980.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (adopted January 17, 1977). ICRP Publication 26; Ann. ICRP, 1, No. 3, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1977.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    R. H. Clarke and A. B. Fleishman, “The Establishment of De Minimis Levels of Radioactive Wastes,” presented at the IRPA Congress, Berlin, 1984.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Policy Evaluation, Safety Goals for Nuclear Power Plant Operation,NUREG-0880, Revision 1 for Comment, Washington, D.C., May 1983.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    C. Starr, R. Rudman, and C. Whipple, “Philosophical Basis for Risk Analysis,” in Annual Review of Energy V. 1,Annual Reviews, Inc., Palo Alto, 1976.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    K. A. Solomon, “How Unique are the Price-Anderson Limitations on Nuclear Accident Liability?,” Risk Analysis, V. 3, No. 1, March 1983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    C. Comar, “Risk: A Pragmatic De Minimis Approach,” Science,V. 203, No. 4378 January 26, 1979, reprinted in this volume.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    H. L. Adler and A. M. Weinberg, “An Approach to Setting Radiation Standards,” Health Physics, V. 34, pp. 710–720, June 1978.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    P. Huber, “The Market for Risk,” Regulation, March/April 1984.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    D. A. Kessler, “Food Safety: Revising the Statute,” Science, V. 223, March 9, 1974.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Whipple
    • 1
  1. 1.Energy Study CenterElectric Power Research InstitutePalo AltoUSA

Personalised recommendations