SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  14 April 2011
Volume 12 Issue 4

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Evaluating Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments and Remediation Decisions: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?

John Toll, Windward Environmental; Rosalind Schoof, ENVIRON

Risk assessments are generally conducted under the premise that it’s better to err on the side of conservatism―to insert an overestimation bias into risk assessments in the face of uncertainty. But is this principle really appropriate for protecting human health and the environment? Does it really deliver maximum benefit to local human and ecological communities? What if an assessment leads to an invasive remedy that damages or destroys habitat or other ecosystem assets (open space, recreation opportunities, etc.)? Is there harm associated with extensive remedies that do not yield promised reductions in health risk? Does overestimation of risk lead to faulty decision-making in selection of remedial alternatives? Are we, as risk assessors and risk managers, doing enough to account for the risk of the remedy in our actions and decisions? Should managers focus on more than risk reduction as their performance objective? Are there real examples of where (and how) a risk manager balanced a conservative risk estimate against the “cons” of more stringent remedial actions in order to achieve a better outcome?

A session has been proposed to tackle these questions at the 2011 SETAC North America meeting in Boston. Presenters will be challenged to consider this question: Which principle should be given precedence in risk assessment and risk management practice: the precautionary principle or the Hippocratic principle first do no harm? The session is jointly sponsored by the Ecological Risk Assessment Advisory Group and the Human Health Risk Assessment Advisory Group. Abstracts are welcome and are being accepted until 1 June. We invite you to contact us if you have questions or ideas you want to share about the topic. We hope to see you in Boston in November. We’re looking forward to what we hope will be a lively and productive session!

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