Abstract. Risk assessment is a widely used procedure for gaining understanding of the risks to health posed by the many threats that exist in the environment. For purposes of this paper, the risks of concern are the many forms of toxicity that can be caused by chemicals of all types. Risk assessment findings are typically used by regulatory and public health authorities to establish limits on human exposure to avoid toxicities. This paper is devoted to explaining the procedure, and demonstrating the proper interpretation of its results. Specifically, it will be shown why risk assessments of this nature are designed to apply only to generic populations, and not to any actual individuals in those populations. Thus, for example, claims by individuals that they have suffered harm as a result of incurring exposures in excess of limits established by applying risk assessment results cannot be justified scientifically. Certainly, exposures to a chemical known to cause toxicity can in some cases harm individuals, but the type of evidence and analysis needed to evaluate causation in such cases is substantially different from the risk assessment procedure used to establish protections for populations.This paper summarizes the bases for this conclusion.
SUMMARY: 1. Introduction. – 2. Broad overview of risk assessment. – 3. Toxicology and exposure assessment for chemicals. – 4. The conduct of risk assessment: data and assumptions used. – 4.1. Steps in the risk assessment process. – 5. Interpretation. – 6. Evaluating possible harms to actual people. – 7. Legal applications.
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To read our Italian translation, click here.