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The Concept of Data Utility in Health Risk Assessment: A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective

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Human and ecological health risk assessments and the decisions that stem from them require the acquisition and analysis of data. In agencies that are responsible for health risk decision-making, data (and/or opinions/judgments) are obtained from sources such as scientific literature, analytical and process measurements, expert elicitation, inspection findings, and public and private research institutions. Although the particulars of conducting health risk assessments of given disciplines may be dramatically different, a common concern is the subjective nature of judging data utility. Often risk assessors are limited to available data that may not be completely appropriate to address the question being asked. Data utility refers to the ability of available data to support a risk-based decision for a particular risk assessment. This article familiarizes the audience with the concept of data utility and is intended to raise the awareness of data collectors (e.g., researchers), risk assessors, and risk managers to data utility issues in health risk assessments so data collection and use will be improved. In order to emphasize the cross-cutting nature of data utility, the discussion has not been organized into a classical partitioning of risk assessment concerns as being either human health- or ecological health-oriented, as per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund Program.

Keywords: data utility; ecological risk assessment; human health risk assessment; microbial risk assessment; risk management

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, Environmental Health Risk Assessment Program, MD, USA

Publication date: November 1, 2008


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