Edited by Mark G.Robson and William A.Toscano . Published by John Wiley & Sons , San Francisco , April 2007 . Hardback, 664 pages. RRP $126.95 . ISBN 978 0 7879 8319 2. .

Reviewed by Shilu Tong, School of Public Health and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland

Human health is affected by many factors, ranging from the molecular level to the global. Evidently, all diseases are caused by interactions between genetic and environmental factors. This concept of complexity and multi-factorial nature in environmental health provides the framework and integrating theme for this book, which offers a comprehensive introduction to risk assessment principles, practices and procedures associated with environmental health.

The book is written by 43 experts in the field and is divided into two parts: the first involves 16 substantial chapters on risk-related topics that include:

  • What is risk and why study risk assessment?
  • Risk assessment/risk management paradigm.
  • Risk assessment and regulatory decision making in environmental health.
  • Toxicological basis of risk assessment.
  • Application of physiologically based pharmaco-kinetic (PBPK) modelling to risk assessment.
  • Probabilistic models to characterise aggregate and cumulative risk.
  • Molecular basis of risk assessment.
  • Comparative risk assessment.
  • Occupational risk.
  • Radiological risk assessment.
  • Microbial risk assessment.
  • Children's risk assessment.
  • Lifecycle risk.
  • Environmental laws and regulations.
  • Precautionary principles.
  • Risk communication.

The second part discusses topics related to the practice of environmental health risk assessment using 11 case studies. Although the chapters are written by different authors, the writing is uniformly clear and the concepts well explained. In addition, most of the chapters start with learning objectives and end with a conclusion, recommendations, thought questions, and bibliographic references. The diversity of contents and the coherent organisational features provide a clear guide for understanding and implementing risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication in environmental health.

Part one begins with an introduction to risk assessment in public health (chapter 1), which illustrates several important issues such as what is risk, how to determine acceptable risk, and what are new risks arising from common public health practices. It follows with the risk assessment/risk management paradigm (chapter 2), which describes the fundamental concept of risk from a historical perspective and the objectives of risk assessment. The next chapter, on risk assessment and regulatory decision making in environmental health, provides a succinct overview on how to apply risk assessment principles in environmental decision-making, and then illustrates three examples of risk assessment pertinent to environmental health.

Chapter 4 follows with the toxicological basis for risk assessment, which covers basic toxicological concepts, biomonitoring and chemical safety. Chapters 5 and 6 describe some advanced models for environmental health risk assessment; viz., PBPK and probabilistic models. The PBPK models are a useful tool for the integrated computer simulation of pharmaco-kinetics of a chemical or chemicals, while probabilistic models are primarily used for characterising aggregate and cumulative risk of exposure to environmental pollutants.

Chapters 7 and 8 introduce some common molecular tools for risk assessment and the concept of comparative risk assessment, respectively. Chapter 9 describes risk in the workplace, which covers occupational risk assessment methodology and emerging health hazards in workplaces. Chapters 10 and 11 illustrate fundamental principles and major frameworks in radiological and microbial risk assessment. Chapters 12 and 13 describe risk assessment paradigms as they apply to children and throughout different life stages.

Chapter 14 provides an excellent overview of environmental public health laws and their relation to risk assessment. Chapter 15 introduces another vitally important component in environmental health risk assessment: a precautionary approach. The final chapter in this part discusses the purposes and principles of risk communication. These chapters lay a foundation for understanding the concepts, principles and methods of risk assessment, which is one of the most significant issues in environmental health.

Part two uses 11 chapters to explore key issues that affect risk assessment practices, including the assessment of health hazards from waste sites, evaluation of intraspecies differences in toxicity, estimation of health risks from exposure to chlorine and chloroform in swimming pools, pesticides, and ecosystem risk assessment. All of these chapters define the nature and extent of the problems and the hazards, from hazardous waste, to indoor environment, drinking-water quality, and the vulnerabilities of children and ecosystems. These illustrations are accompanied by properly chosen examples and are combined with practical information about risk identification, characterisation, communication and policy recommendations.

This book also provides name index and subject index to help the reader to search for relevant information in the text. In my view, the book could have created added value by minimising redundant materials across chapters and recommending further reading and information resources at the end of each chapter.

In summary, this is a pleasantly readable and well-presented book that is suitable for a wide readership. It should be a useful reference for undergraduate students as well as postgraduate students studying environmental health risk assessment for the first time. It should also be relevant to public health professionals with a general interest in risk assessment, management, and communications as these practices are increasingly used in regulatory decision making and policy communications.