Human society faces a growing number of risks, including both natural disasters and risks that stem from human behavior. This is particularly true in China, which is experiencing rapid social, economic and political transitions. Since the 1970s, China's modernization process has been accompanied by the emergence of an increasing number of man-made risks, in particular environmental pollution, but until very recently, a risk management system did not exist in China. Society was woken up by a series of disasters and accidents, including SARS in 2003, followed by the explosion of avian flu and the chemical spill in the Songhua River in 2005. The last incident in particular finally kicked off the development of a national risk management system (specifically an emergency response system) in China. This paper analyses the status quo of the legislation, institutions and mechanisms for risk management in China and identifies opportunities and strategies for prioritizing and integrating environmental and health risks into the emerging system. The study concludes that although a series of alarming incidents have succeeded in putting risk management issues at the top of the public and political agenda, currently risk management in China can be characterized as reactive and compartmentalized, with a lack of prioritization and integration of policy efforts and resources. There is also a danger that the traditional state-centered approach may fail to create an effective risk management system, which requires improved transparency, accountability, and cross-sectoral coordination. The paper concludes with the proposal of strategies that might enable the environmental authorities to be more effective and reduce their marginalization and isolation.