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Water Sci Technol. 2005;52(6):227-34.

Uncertainty and precaution in European environmental risk assessment of chemicals.

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  • 1Department of Applied Mathematics, Biometrics and Process Control (BIOMATH), Ghent University, Belgium.


It is recognised that there is a need for a proper treatment and transparency of uncertainty in risk assessment and management, especially in view of the upcoming proposed new chemical policy REACH, which delegates the responsibility for conducting risk assessments to industry. The current EU risk assessment for new and existing substances is largely deterministic and prudential measures are implicitly embedded in calculation schemes and rules. In this paper, a more probabilistic approach to risk assessment is advocated. The advantage is twofold: 1) inherent variability and other uncertainty pertaining to exposure and effects are transparently taken into account, while at the same time 2) issues of caution are explicitly transferred to the risk management phase. The result of a probabilistic risk assessment as suggested is improved transparency with quantitative and qualitative uncertainty estimates. Such uncertainty information can be used to discuss precautionary measures in the context of risk management.

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