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Assessing Cumulative Risks to Guide Public Exposure Levels Following Disasters

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Shaker Verlag


The public is increasingly aware of the potential for multiple chemicals to cause adverse health effects that may not be accounted for when assessing single chemicals alone. This is especially true in disaster situations, when high levels of many contaminants can be released. Pressures for affected cities to return to normal can be strong, and urban exposures can be difficult to control. To assure health protection in these situations, it is important to consider the possible effects of combined exposures across multiple media and over various population groups. These integrated analyses consider fate, availability of toxicity data and health-based guidelines, and application of cumulative risk approaches. Understanding environmental fate is key to accounting for the appropriate chemical form over various exposure periods of interest, ranging from acute (emergency response) to chronic (final cleanup). Rigorous toxicity data are typically unavailable for humans, and are sometimes limited to anecdotal information or medical case reports. While more data are typically available for animal toxicity, information is often limited across durations of interest, and extrapolation to estimate human effects introduces considerable uncertainty. Although a number of health-based guides exist, gaps are considerable and relevance to the exposure period of interest is again crucial. Cumulative risk approaches are beginning to be applied to assess joint exposures and toxicities of multiple contaminants that could be released, and these more systematic analyses are expected to further inform preparedness planning and response for disaster events.


MacDonnell, Margaret (2007): Assessing Cumulative Risks to Guide Public Exposure Levels Following Disasters. Environmental Informatics and Systems Research. Aachen: Shaker Verlag. Ecoinforma Symposium: Integrating Information for Health and Environmental Protection. Warschau. 2007