Health Risk Assessment, Surveillance & Management

An Introduction to Environmental Health Risk Assessment

Last Updated: July 27, 2018
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Environmental Health Risk Assessment is the multidisciplinary field of environmental health practice that is focused around the methods used to evaluate exposure, predict health risks and outcomes, and inform decision-making to control or otherwise respond to unacceptable exposures to environmental hazards. 

The practice of health risk assessment and the utilization of the principles and standards of risk assessment are widely distributed across the APHC, as it is an important tool for many, if not all, of the functional areas of public health.  Nonetheless, the APHC provides an integration mechanism and a set of unique, low density specialized mission services for this multidisciplinary field of practice.  Often risk assessment services require the collaboration of subject matter experts (SMEs) from several technical disciplines spanning across various parts of the APHC. 

Risk assessment products can be powerful tools to organize and articulate scientific knowledge within a framework useful to decision makers.  Without uncertainty there is no reason to assess risk.  Thus, risk assessments must be designed to deal with uncertainty.  Uncertainties exist in the identification and measurement of hazards, the estimation of exposures, the identification and measurement of health effects associated with exposures, and in the method used to characterize population and operational risks.  The creation of a risk assessment product is an iterative process designed to be refined over several revisions until there is consensus on the most important and most uncertain factors affecting the results. How confident decision-makers need to be on these important but uncertain factors should drive the duration and complexity of the risk assessment life-cycle.  Any given health risk estimate is designed to inform a decision and its generation is influenced by assumptions based on data availability and risk perceptions.  Communication between risk analysts and decision makers is crucial to success.

As a multidisciplinary field practice, environmental health risk assessment draws knowledge and implements techniques from a variety of technical disciplines.  The following disciplines are commonly involved when provided environmental health risk assessment services —

  • Public Health
  • Environmental and Exposure Science
  • Chemistry and Engineering
  • Toxicology and Epidemiology
  • Environmental Medicine
  • Industrial Hygiene
  • Microbiology and Ecology
  • Environmental and Biostatistics
  • Risk Communication

Environmental health risk assessments (EHRAs) and related risk assessment services support many types of decisions facing military risk-managers.  The following is an illustrative list, which is not all inclusive.

  • EHRAs inform the setting of chemical and biological exposure guidelines and standards.
  • EHRAs inform environmental cleanup decisions.
  • EHRAs inform force health protection for COCOMs and forward deployed bases.
  • EHRAs inform the design of hazardous waste combustion facility operations.
  • EHRAs inform the design of open burning and open detonation operations.
  • EHRAs inform the design of hazard detection, identification, and remediation systems.
  • EHRAs inform the life-cycle management of chemicals and materials.
  • EHRAs inform policy, decision-making, and method and doctrine development across a large range of military Force Health Protection and Public Health missions -- 
    • Occupational and Environmental Health (OEH) missions.
    • Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) defense missions.
    • Chemical and Material Risk Management (CMRM) missions.
    • Chemical-Agent Demilitarization missions.
    • Emergency Preparedness and Response missions.
    • Water Reuse and Recycling missions.
    • Food and Water Safety missions. 
    • Environmental Management and Restoration missions.

Please contact the APHC Environmental Health Risk Assessment Division with requests for these and similar risk assessment services. The following set of products and service categories are of most interest to APHC stakeholders.  Other products and services are currently being provided.  Emerging products and services are generally designed to suit the needs of the particular risk management challenge and build on lessons learned.