EPA Science Inventory

IN DEFENSE OF ECORISK ASSESSMENT (LETTER TO EDITOR)

Citation:

Mayer Jr., F L., C. Pittinger, D. Versteeg, J. Rodgers, B. Stubblefield, R. Wentsel, AND D. Woltering. IN DEFENSE OF ECORISK ASSESSMENT (LETTER TO EDITOR). ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY 32(5):116A, (1998).

Description:

Dear Editor: We are writing to convey a more accurate portrayal of the status of ecological ("environmental" in Europe) risk assessment that was presented in the recent article by M. Power and L.S. McCarty (Fallacies in Ecological Risk Assessment Practices," August 1997, pp 370A-375A). Some important points that could have been made by the authors (e.g., that it is important to distinguish between science and policy in risk assessment and risk management) were lost in the rhetoric and apparent quest for sensationalism. Although we agree that "the most important role for science is the provision of information to be used in environmental decision making," we do not agree with several other notions of the authors. The authors imply that the goal of ecological risk assessment is to "protect, conserve, and maintain ecological processes." Such a goal represents issues for society, not just science. It is the role of risk managers--not risk assessors--to weigh all relevant technical, economic, and social considerations to ensure balanced decision making. Risk assessment serves only to inform the risk manager about likely ecological consequences. (Mischaracterization of risk assessment has resulted in some recent U.S. legislative debates wherein this practice unfairly bore the brunt of controversy surrounding the fundamental risk management issue of how safe is safe.) Although it may be true that "consensus on an acceptable, comprehensive decision-making framework..has not emerged," we feel that the practice of ecological risk assessment is in danger of developing to the degree that is is "standardized." And although standardization may bring global harmonization of methods, a pitfall is the stagnation of development of the science underlying the practice. Thus, ecological risk assessments may evolve into a "check-box" exercise, a system that would not permit the latitude to gain new understandings, incorporate novel approaches, or use professional judgement. Power and McCarty decry the lack of consensus on a decision-making framework, and they attack the science of ecological risk assessment. As we look at the practice, however, we see new science-based initiatives by ecologists, chemists, and toxicologists. These initiatives should be supported, not rejected because the science and the ecosystem are complex. And that gets to our final point. The authors imply that natural ecosystem interactions are so complex that responses to stressors cannot be predicted because ecologists and environmental scientists do not yet understand which components and influences are most important. Complexity aside, we recognize that risk assessments will be conducted and that the results will be applied, along with the other relevant information descirbed above, so that risk managers can make informed, defensible decisions. We expect the practice of ecological risk assessment to continue to improve in its predictive capabilities and pledge our efforts as active environmental scientists to participate in the ongoing scientific discourse that is improving the practice

Purpose/Objective:

Letter to editor

Record Details:

Record Type: DOCUMENT (JOURNAL/PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL)
Start Date: 08/01/1998
Completion Date: 08/01/1998
Record Last Revised: 07/26/2012
Record Created: 12/08/2004
Record Released: 12/08/2004
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 106964

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LAB

GULF ECOLOGY DIVISION

COASTAL ECOLOGY BRANCH