IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Is Risk‐Based Regulation Feasible? The Case of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)


  • Brian Hector MacGillivray
  • Ruth E. Alcock
  • Jerry Busby


The polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a class of brominated flame retardants used extensively in an array of textiles and plastics. Initially viewed as inert and nontoxic, in recent years an emerging body of science has cast doubt on this perception. Consequently, the compounds have drawn sustained government, media, and lobby group focus in the United States and Europe, yet have taken contrasting trajectories in different risk regulation regimes. We present a longitudinal analysis of these pathways, examining the actions of legislatures, executives, courts, scientists, and pressure groups. We show that the emergence and resolution of PBDEs as a risk issue was strongly shaped by path dependency, political entrainment (inter‐institutional conflict unrelated to PBDEs), and partisan lawmaking. This raises the question of whether risk‐based principles are capable of being the foundation on which managing the potential for harm can be based—even when that harm is associated with specific objects like flame‐retardant chemicals. We conclude by reflecting on the difficult normative issues that are raised.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian Hector MacGillivray & Ruth E. Alcock & Jerry Busby, 2011. "Is Risk‐Based Regulation Feasible? The Case of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 31(2), pages 266-281, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:riskan:v:31:y:2011:i:2:p:266-281
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01500.x

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ragnar E. Löfstedt & David Vogel, 2001. "The Changing Character of Regulation: A Comparison of Europe and the United States," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 21(3), pages 399-416, June.
    2. Jonathan B. Wiener & Michael D. Rogers, 2002. "Comparing precaution in the United States and Europe," Journal of Risk Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 5(4), pages 317-349, October.
    3. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65(2), pages 135-135.
    4. Hood, Christopher & Rothstein, Henry & Baldwin, Robert, 2004. "The Government of Risk: Understanding Risk Regulation Regimes," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199270019, Decembrie.
    5. Noll, Roger G & Krier, James E, 1990. "Some Implications of Cognitive Psychology for Risk Regulation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(2), pages 747-779, June.
    6. Sunstein, Cass R, 1993. "Endogenous Preferences, Environmental Law," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(2), pages 217-254, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Kelsey D. Meagher, 2022. "Policy responses to foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States and Germany," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 39(1), pages 233-248, March.
    2. Steve Jacob & Nathalie Schiffino, 2015. "Risk Policies in the United States: Definition and Characteristics Based on a Scoping Review of the Literature," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 35(5), pages 849-858, May.
    3. Nathalie Schiffino & Steve Jacob, 2011. "Risk, democracy and schizophrenia: the changing roles of citizens in risk policy-making putting GMO policy to the test," Journal of Risk Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(8), pages 983-993, September.
    4. Terje Aven, 2018. "Reflections on the Use of Conceptual Research in Risk Analysis," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 38(11), pages 2415-2423, November.
    5. Diahanna L. Post, 2006. "The Precautionary Principle and Risk Assessment in International Food Safety: How the World Trade Organization Influences Standards," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 26(5), pages 1259-1273, October.
    6. Christophe Crombez, 2004. "Introduction," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 16(3), pages 227-231, July.
    7. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 2002. "Political economics and public finance," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 24, pages 1549-1659, Elsevier.
    8. Kaivan Munshi & Mark Rosenzweig, 2008. "The Efficacy of Parochial Politics: Caste, Commitment, and Competence in Indian Local Governments," NBER Working Papers 14335, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Burkhard Schipper & Hee Yeul Woo, 2012. "Political Awareness and Microtargeting of Voters in Electoral Competition," Working Papers 124, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
    10. Marco Faravelli & Randall Walsh, 2011. "Smooth Politicians And Paternalistic Voters: A Theory Of Large Elections," Levine's Working Paper Archive 786969000000000250, David K. Levine.
    11. Hank C. Jenkins-Smith & Neil J. Mitchell & Kerry G. Herron, 2004. "Foreign and Domestic Policy Belief Structures in the U.S. and British Publics," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 48(3), pages 287-309, June.
    12. Eric Kaufmann & Henry Patterson, 2006. "Intra‐Party Support for the Good Friday Agreement in the Ulster Unionist Party," Political Studies, Political Studies Association, vol. 54(3), pages 509-532, October.
    13. Micael Castanheira, 2003. "Why Vote For Losers?," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(5), pages 1207-1238, September.
    14. Peter J. Coughlin, 2015. "Probabilistic voting in models of electoral competition," Chapters, in: Jac C. Heckelman & Nicholas R. Miller (ed.), Handbook of Social Choice and Voting, chapter 13, pages 218-234, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    15. Mihir Bhattacharya, 2019. "Constitutionally consistent voting rules over single-peaked domains," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 52(2), pages 225-246, February.
    16. Marc Henry & Ismael Mourifié, 2013. "Euclidean Revealed Preferences: Testing The Spatial Voting Model," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(4), pages 650-666, June.
    17. , & ,, 2006. "Group formation and voter participation," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 1(4), pages 461-487, December.
    18. Dendi Ramdani & Arjen Witteloostuijn, 2012. "The Shareholder–Manager Relationship and Its Impact on the Likelihood of Firm Bribery," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 108(4), pages 495-507, July.
    19. Alan E. Wiseman, 2006. "A Theory of Partisan Support and Entry Deterrence in Electoral Competition," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 18(2), pages 123-158, April.
    20. Alessandro Olper & Johan Swinnen, 2013. "Mass Media and Public Policy: Global Evidence from Agricultural Policies," The World Bank Economic Review, World Bank, vol. 27(3), pages 413-436.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wly:riskan:v:31:y:2011:i:2:p:266-281. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Wiley Content Delivery (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.