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A PROBABILISTIC APPROACH TO ECOLOGICAL RISK ASSESSMENT: A CASE STUDY OF THERMAL DISCHARGES INTO LAKE WATER ENVIRONMENT

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Industrial refrigeration systems produce significant amount of hot wastewater that is usually discharged into rivers, lakes or oceans. A thermal waste has adverse effects on the receiving water bodies causing a potential threat to the existing ecological community. The risk posed by the thermal discharges to a lake or ocean environment depends on, among other factors, the size of the thermal discharge, its temperature at the outfall, the extent of the exposure and response of the receptors. The quantification of the risk to the aquatic community is rendered uncertain due to variability in the responses of the receptors as well as uncertainties in the extent of their exposure. An assessment of the exposure of the aquatic life to such affected environment is rendered further uncertain by various factors such as bio-availability and/or the duration of the exposure. In spite of the uncertain nature of the input parameters and the associated estimation methods, the quantification of the risk has been traditionally done based on deterministic approaches thus leaving the risk managers with an unknown degree of uncertainty in the implementation of their management strategies.

Using a probabilistic approach, this paper demonstrates a USEPA-based methodology for characterizing the ecological risk. An example of the stepwise application of the method to characterize the risk posed by the thermal discharges to the aquatic life in a lake environment is presented. The temperature distribution in the lake water due to the dispersion of heat from the thermal outfall is probabilistically estimated by using a centerline temperature decay model available in the literature. The uncertainties in the thermal responses of assessment endpoints and their exposure are estimated using an approach based on two-dimensional Monte Carlo simulation.

The results from the case studied show that the deterministic approaches of risk assessment may fail to identify the inherent threat to the aquatic community for a given management goal. However, using the probabilistic method, the uncertainty associated with the input parameters is clearly manifested in the increased risk! Risk management and communication aspects, including the limitations of the study are also discussed in the paper.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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