The following paper discusses the risk assessment process while explaining the framework, how each phase interrelates, and why the framework is so important in assisting with the risk assessment process. The paper will also discuss some of the innovations that have occurred over the last several years.
Ecological Risk Assessment Framework
An ecological risk assessment is a process that analyzes potential adverse effects that are occurring or may occur as a consequence of exposure to one or more chemical, biological or physical stressors (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1998). The framework for an ecological risk assessment is an important process because it provides a way to develop, organize, and present information that is scientifically pertinent in decisions regarding the environment (U.S. EPA, n.d.). This information enables the public and decision-makers to make better educated decisions regarding the administration and management of ecological resources (U.S. EPA, n.d.). The framework portrays a sequential process but often it is used as a guideline and involves a lot of interaction between the steps.
The framework is usually iterative and nonlinear. Once in the latter phases of the framework if more information is gained or learned it may be necessary to go back to the earlier phases and either gather more evidence or reevaluate information obtained so that the information and data obtained truly supports the end results (Paustenbach, 2002). The four main topics of an ecological risk assessment are problem formulation, characterization of exposure, characterization of ecological effects, and risk characterization. Problem formulation begins with developing and evaluating the initial questions regarding the occurrences of ecological effects and why or how they might occur. The problem is then evaluated and steps are developed to analyze the data and characterize the risk that might be associated.
The information obtained will help to produce the assessment endpoints and conceptual models which are both needed to complete the analysis plan (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1998). The analysis phase which consists of characterization of exposure and ecological effects are then guided by the results obtained from the problem formulation. In this phase data is analyzed to decide how exposure to stressors may occur and if exposed what possible ecological effects will surmise (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1998). The final phase risk characterization then proceeds by using the exposure and stressor-response information obtained through the analysis section and includes all scientific uncertainties, assumption summaries, and any limitations or strengths of the analysis (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1998).
Historical Development of Risk Assessment
Over the past 100 years there have been many innovations regarding risk assessment. During the industrial revolution the many adverse effects caused from exposure to toxins were highly recognized in several work places. The rapid rise of the industrial market created waste and direct point source contaminants in turn produced air and water pollution, ecological degradation, and soil contamination. The public began to have concerns regarding disease and the complications associated with reproduction. Because of such a large number of different diseases occurring, many universities began to establish industrial hygiene programs. In the following years other graduate programs established industrial hygiene programs to train people to recognize, evaluate, and control causative agents (Paustenbach, D. J. (2002). In the 1930’s Scientists began doing assessments and collecting information showing that human health, the degree of exposure and the toxicity of chemicals were related.
Permissible exposure limits were set for workplaces and the acceptable levels of exposure to toxic agents were introduced (Paustenbach, D. J. (2002). Late in the 1940’s attention began to focus more on what was considered lower risk hazards. Assessments and tests that were conducted showed that organic chemicals like waste by-product, herbicides, and pesticides posed a threat to water, soil, air, water, and sediment. During this time it was recognized that these chemicals needed to be used, maintained , and disposed of properly because they could produce several long term adverse effects to the environment and human health (Paustenbach, D. J. (2002).
An ecological risk assessment analyzes potential negative effects that may occur as a consequence of exposure to a causative agent. The risk assessment consists of four different phases that are used as guidelines and help to assist with developing, organizing, and presenting information that is scientifically pertinent in decisions regarding the environment. Risk assessments have been going on since the beginning of time in some shape or form and has through the last few years made great developments. Risk assessments are crucial in this day and age because it enables the public and decision-makers to make better educated decisions regarding the administration and management of ecological resources that are very important for human existence.
Paustenbach, D. J. (2002). Human and ecological risk assessment. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1998). Guidelines for Ecological Risk Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/raf/publications/pdfs/ECOTXTBX.PDF U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Ecological Risk Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/superfund/programs/nrd/era.htm