Explaining public risk acceptance of a petrochemical complex: A delicate balance of costs, benefits, and trust

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Communities adjacent to polluting industrial facilities understand and evaluate risk in often ambivalent and contextualized ways, not only balancing economic and environmental concerns but also reflecting cultural practices, social worldviews, and trust relationships. In this case study of the Antwerp petrochemical complex, the largest in Europe, a residents? survey and interviews are used to examine how two middle-class communities coexist with the nearby petrochemical plants. The findings show that citizens in both communities are generally aware of the environmental impact and public health risk but are predominantly accepting of the industry. For both communities, the most important factor explaining acceptance is the perceived socio-economic benefit for the community, while a direct individual benefit in terms of employment does not play a significant role. In one community, risk acceptance is further strengthened by trust in companies? risk management, while in the other community, trust in regulators is more critical. The different results for both communities stress the importance of a socio-cultural perspective on risk and underline the criticality of relationships of trust. The article further discusses the implications of these findings for environmental decision-making, considering the delicate balance and the significant minority of the population who is less accepting. The present study adds to the risk perception literature by providing one of the first quantitative analyses explaining industrial risk acceptance, instead of perception, using the increasingly contested petrochemical industry as an exemplary case.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1413-1440
Number of pages28
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • risk perception
  • risk acceptance
  • industrial risk
  • petrochemical industry
  • Antwerp


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