Applying USEPA Risk Assessment Guidance in the 90s
Over the past decade, risk assessment has become increasingly relied upon for helping to make environmental management decisions. This trend has been accompanied by research and refinements in basic risk assessment methodologies to improve our ability to understand and evaluate the human health risks associated with chemical exposures. Despite this progress, significant uncertainties continue to be associated with the risk assessment process. These uncertainties typically derive from gaps in available data regarding chemical toxicity, and from difficulties in reliably estimating the magnitude of chemical exposures. Given these limitations, risk assessment is generally most valuable in evaluating relative risk; for example, when comparing alternatives to achieving a specified goal, setting priorities for protecting human health, or establishing procedures for properly allocating resources. Risk assessment can also be useful for developing regulatory benchmarks such as permit limits for air or water. In many cases, however, the limitations of the risk assessment process make it difficult (if not impossible) to reliably estimate an absolute level of risk, especially for a specific individual in an exposed population. In such cases, risk assessment can be seriously misapplied, and its results misinterpreted. This paper discusses some of the challenges that have been faced by the field of risk assessment during the 1990s. Current trends in risk assessment, and its use by regulatory agencies in making risk management decisions, are also described.
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