Uncertainty, variability and environmental risk analysis

University dissertation from Växjö, Kalmar : Linnaeus University Press

Abstract: The negative effects of hazardous substances and possible measures that can be taken are evaluated in the environmental risk analysis process, consisting of risk assessment, risk communication and risk management. Uncertainty due to lack of knowledge and natural variability are always present in this process. The aim of this thesis is to evaluate some tools as well as discuss the management of uncertainty and variability, as it is necessary to treat them both in a reliable and transparent way to gain regulatory acceptance in decision making.The catalytic effects of various metals on the formation of chlorinated aromatic compounds during the heating of fly ash were investigated (paper I). Copper showed a positive catalytic effect, while cobalt, chromium and vanadium showed a catalytic effect for degradation. Knowledge of the catalytic effects may facilitate the choice and design of combustion processes to decrease emissions, but it also provides valuable information to identify and characterize the hazard.Exposure factors of importance in risk assessment (physiological parameters, time use factors and food consumption) were collected and evaluated (paper II). Interindividual variability was characterized by mean, standard deviation, skewness, kurtosis and multiple percentiles, while uncertainty in these parameters was estimated with confidence intervals.How these statistical parameters can be applied was shown in two exposure assessments (papers III and IV). Probability bounds analysis was used as a probabilistic approach, which enables separate propagation of uncertainty and variability even in cases where the availability of data is limited. In paper III it was determined that the exposure cannot be expected to cause any negative health effects for recreational users of a public bathing place. Paper IV concluded that the uncertainty interval in the estimated exposure increased when accounting for possible changes in climate-sensitive model variables. Risk managers often need to rely on precaution and an increased uncertainty may therefore have implications for risk management decisions.Paper V focuses on risk management and a questionnaire was sent to employees at all Swedish County Administrative Boards working with contaminated land. It was concluded that the gender, age and work experience of the employees, as well as the funding source of the risk assessment, all have an impact on the reviewing of risk assessments. Gender was the most significant factor, and it also affected the perception of knowledge.