Environmental Risk Assessment

What You Should Know

We only get one earth and the actions that we carry out can have a significant effect on the environment around us, potentially making it unsafe for humans and animals especially in the future. Whenever we are using chemicals or performing tasks that could potentially be harmful for the environment, it is important to investigate how we are doing this – so that we can ensure that the work is carried out in the safest and cleanest way possible.

An environmental risk assessment is necessary to ensure that the health risks to humans are identified, as well as the health risks to ecological receptors such as fish, birds and wildlife. A risk manager will use this information in order to help them determine how to protect the environment and humans from these contaminants.

The Environmental Risk Assessment should consider the impact on the environment caused by a number of factors, including feed and plant protection products, certain food substances, the introduction of plant pests and much more. It should also consider the risks of any microbiological hazards and contaminants entering the food chain.

The aim of the environmental risk assessment is to determine whether there might be a risk of adverse effects on the environment and if any measures are needed to limit the environmental damage of the substance. If a risk assessment is not carried out the options are not adequately supported with technical information and as a result there can be environmental damage, risk to humans and sustainability issues.

What Environmental Factors Could Be Risks?

An environmental factor becomes a risk when there is a chance of harmful effects to ecological systems, human health and exposure to an environmental stressor. These stressors could have an effect on entire ecosystems, natural resources, plants and animals as well as the environment with which they interact.

There are many different types of environmental risk assessments, such as a pollution risk assessments, natural disaster risk assessments or a safety risk assessment. For example a company that builds roads might do an assessment of a product that they use as an adhesion promoter in their hot mix asphalt. Does the material have a negative effect on the environment?

Another example might be evaluating the emission from factories, to estimate the concentration of harmful substances that are emitted to the environment. Or perhaps the company wants to reduce the aquatic buffer zone for using certain pesticides or other plant protection products – a risk assessment is necessary to protect watercourses from higher amounts of drift from using standard spraying procedures and equipment.

Once the risk itself is identified, it will need to be characterised. An estimation of the severity of the adverse effects is important so that the actual risk can be understood.

Human Health Risk Assessments VS. Ecological Risk Assessments

There are two different types of Environmental Risk Assessments, the human health risk assessment and the ecological risk assessment.

Human Health Risk Assessments

The human health risk assessment is the process that is used to estimate the nature and the probability of adverse health effects in humans, who might be exposed to chemicals for one reason or another. For example this could include health problems that result from exposure to radiation. This type of risk assessment also determines which people are most vulnerable to environmental stressors, such as those who are susceptible due to age, genetics, gender or existing health conditions or due to factors such as where they live, where they work or what they eat. For example, children might be at greater risk than adults and those who live in a certain area or drink from a certain water supply might also be at a higher risk.

A human health risk assessment is usually carried out in five basic steps, which include:

  • Planning – The process begins with planning and performing research in order to learn more about potential risks.
  • Hazard identification – The next step will determine whether or not a stressor could cause harm to humans or ecological system. If so, under what circumstances?
  • Dose-Response Assessment – This step of the process analyses the relationship between effects and exposure.
  • Exposure Assessment – This step examines what is known about the timing, frequency and levels of contact with a particular environmental stressor.
  • Characterisation of Risk – This step evaluates the way that the data supports conclusions about the extent of the risk and the nature of the exposure.
  • You then have all the information required to prevent these risks.

Ecological Risk Assessment

The other type of Environmental Risk Assessment is an ecological risk assessment, which evaluates how likely it is that the environment might be impacted as a result of exposure to factors such as disease, land change, chemicals, climate change or invasive species.

For example this type of environmental risk assessment might focus on whether or not the construction of a dam would impact fish populations, whether contaminants from a mining facility would affect drinking water or whether the application of a certain insecticide would harm an endangered bird species.

The assessment also looks at whether or not there are certain animals, birds and plants that would be more vulnerable to these environmental factors due to their body size, genetics, age and differences.

The typical ecological risk assessment usually follows these steps:

  • Planning – The process always begins with the planning stage so that research can be performed.
  • Problem Formation – This is the step when information is gathered to determine which plants and animals are at risk and need to be protected.
  • Analysis – This step includes figuring out which animals and plants are exposed to the danger and to what degree – as well as whether or not that exposure will cause harmful ecological effects.
  • Risk Characterisation – This step includes risk description and the estimation of risk, such as identifying a level of harmful effects on the animals and plants.

These are the steps that a typical ecological risk assessment follows. Both the human health and ecological risk assessments are essential for ensuring that your company is carrying out its practices in the healthiest and most environmentally sound way possible for everyone and everything.

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