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Uncertainty factors in screening ecological risk assessments

Authors

  • L. Donald Duke,

    Corresponding author
    1. Environmental Science and Engineering Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1772, USA
    • Environmental Science and Engineering Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1772, USA
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  • Mitzy Taggart

    1. Environmental Science and Engineering Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1772, USA
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Abstract

The hazard quotient (HQ) method is commonly used in screening ecological risk assessments (ERAs) to estimate risk to wildlife at contaminated sites. Many ERAs use uncertainty factors (UFs) in the HQ calculation to incorporate uncertainty associated with predicting wildlife responses to contaminant exposure using laboratory toxicity data. The overall objective was to evaluate the current UF methodology as applied to screening ERAs in California, USA. Specific objectives included characterizing current UF methodology, evaluating the degree of conservatism in UFs as applied, and identifying limitations to the current approach. Twenty-four of 29 evaluated ERAs used the HQ approach; 23 of these used UFs in the HQ calculation. All 24 made interspecies extrapolations, and 21 compensated for its uncertainty, most using allometric adjustments and some using UFs. Most also incorporated uncertainty for same-species extrapolations. Twenty-one ERAs used UFs extrapolating from lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) to no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL), and 18 used UFs extrapolating from subchronic to chronic exposure. Values and application of all UF types were inconsistent. Maximum cumulative UFs ranged from 10 to 3,000. Results suggest UF methodology is widely used but inconsistently applied and is not uniformly conservative relative to UFs recommended in regulatory guidelines and academic literature. The method is limited by lack of consensus among scientists, regulators, and practitioners about magnitudes, types, and conceptual underpinnings of the UF methodology.

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