SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
13 March 2014
Volume 15 Issue 3

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What Works and Why: The Next Generation

John Toll, Windward Environmental LLC and Marc Greenberg, Federal Govenment

Calling all young and mid-career professionals! We are hoping to gain inspiration and learn from your creative thinking about how to make environmental risk assessment work better as a process for galvanizing people to achieve significant environmental benefits such as ecosystem restoration, urban revitalization and remediation. The proposed 2014 SETAC North America Ecological Risk Assessment Advisory Group (ERA AG) sponsored session “What Works and Why: The Next Generation” follows in the footsteps of the 2011 session “Evaluating Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments and Remediation Decisions: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?,” the  2012 session “21st Century Environmental Risk Assessment” and the 2013 session “What Works and Why,” which was recorded and can be viewed at the SETAC Live Learning Center.

As with its predecessors, the motivation for the proposed session is the widely held view that environmental risk management decisions – particularly site-specific environmental risk management decisions for large “mega” sites – tend to take too long and cost too much. The purpose of the proposed session “What Works and Why: The Next Generation” is not to dwell on these problems but to accelerate progress toward a new status quo, where environmental risk management projects are routinely expected to create real and lasting value that outweighs direct and indirect project costs. We have learned what some of the ingredients in the recipe for success are:

  • Deeply committed people working in good faith
  • Starting with the end vision for a project or site to redirect risk assessment away from describing problems and toward finding solutions
  • One-two punch of targeted remediation plus habitat enhancement
  • Using adaptive management, where appropriate, to reduce risk quickly, reduce uncertainty about how to manage residual risk, and reduce uncertainty about future liability
  • Using metrics that are as closely connected to assessment endpoints as reasonably possible
  • Establishing crystal clear responsibilities and authorities, with accountability for achieving results

We also know that the world is changing. Modern technologies, particularly computational technologies, weren't invented when the modern environmental risk assessment paradigm was developed. Though there are exceptions to every rule, old dogs are less adept than young dogs at doing new tricks. We are looking to you younger dogs to show us how to use new tricks to make environmental risk assessment work better, as a process for galvanizing people to achieve real and lasting environmental benefits through risk management. 

Abstract submission for the SETAC North America 35th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, opens 1 April. If your work fits this bill, please consider submitting an abstract to this ERA AG session. 

Authors' contact information:,

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