Risk Assessment for the Layperson

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A Guide to Health Risk Assessment - In recent years, the public has become increasingly aware of the presence of harmful chemicals in our environment. Many people express concerns about pesticides and other foreign substances in food, contaminants in drinking water, and toxic pollutants in the air. Others believe these concerns are exaggerated or unwarranted. How can we determine which of these potential hazards really deserve attention? How do we, as a society, decide where to focus our efforts and resources to control these hazards? When we hear about toxic threats that affect us personally, such as the discovery of industrial waste buried in our neighborhood or near our children’s school, how concerned should we be?

Health risk assessment is a scientific tool designed to help answer these questions. Government agencies rely on risk assessments to help them determine which potential hazards are the most significant. Risk assessments can also guide regulators in abating environmental hazards. Members of the public who learn the basics of risk assessment can improve their understanding of both real and perceived environmental hazards, and they can work more effectively with decision makers on solutions to environmental problems.

The purpose of this booklet is to provide a basic explanation of risk assessment for laypeople involved in environmental health issues, including policymakers, business people, members of community groups, news reporters, and others with an interest in the potential health effects of toxic chemicals.