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Generating Probabilistic Spatially-Explicit Individual and Population Exposure Estimates for Ecological Risk Assessments

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Exposure to chemical contaminants in various media must be estimated when performing ecological risk assessments. Exposure estimates are often based on the 95th-percentile upper confidence limit on the mean concentration of all samples, calculated without regard to critical ecological and spatial information about the relative relationship of receptors, their habitats, and contaminants. This practice produces exposure estimates that are potentially unrepresentative of the ecology of the receptor. This article proposes a habitat area and quality-conditioned exposure estimator, E[HQ], that requires consideration of these relationships. It describes a spatially explicit ecological exposure model to facilitate calculation of E[HQ]. The model provides (1) a flexible platform for investigating the effect of changes in habitat area, habitat quality, foraging area, and population size on exposure estimates, and (2) a tool for calculating E[HQ] for use in actual risk assessments. The inner loop of a Visual Basic® program randomly walks a receptor over a multicelled landscape—each cell of which contains values for cell area, habitat area, habitat quality, and concentration—accumulating an exposure estimate until the total area foraged is less than or equal to a given foraging area. An outer loop then steps through foraging areas of increasing size. This program is iterated by Monte Carlo software, with the number of iterations representing the population size. Results indicate that (1) any single estimator may over- or underestimate exposure, depending on foraging strategy and spatial relationships of habitat and contamination, and (2) changes in exposure estimates in response to changes in foraging and habitat area are not linear.

Keywords: Ecological risk; populations; spatially explicit exposures; uncertainty analysis

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Waste Prevention and Management Division, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Portland, Oregon 97215

Publication date: October 1, 2000

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