Application of Geostatistics to Risk Assessment


*Address correspondence to William Thayer, Environmental Science Center, Syracuse Research Corporation, 301 Plainfield Road, Suite 350, Syracuse, NY 13212;


Geostatistics offers two fundamental contributions to environmental contaminant exposure assessment: (1) a group of methods to quantitatively describe the spatial distribution of a pollutant and (2) the ability to improve estimates of the exposure point concentration by exploiting the geospatial information present in the data. The second contribution is particularly valuable when exposure estimates must be derived from small data sets, which is often the case in environmental risk assessment. This article addresses two topics related to the use of geostatistics in human and ecological risk assessments performed at hazardous waste sites: (1) the importance of assessing model assumptions when using geostatistics and (2) the use of geostatistics to improve estimates of the exposure point concentration (EPC) in the limited data scenario. The latter topic is approached here by comparing design-based estimators that are familiar to environmental risk assessors (e.g., Land's method) with geostatistics, a model-based estimator. In this report, we summarize the basics of spatial weighting of sample data, kriging, and geostatistical simulation. We then explore the two topics identified above in a case study, using soil lead concentration data from a Superfund site (a skeet and trap range). We also describe several areas where research is needed to advance the use of geostatistics in environmental risk assessment.