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Risk Characterization Handbook

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


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In February 1995, EPA's Science Policy Council published a number of risk characterization policy documents. That guidance did not go through a public notice and comment process. At present, the agency is working to complete a Risk Characterization Handbook, that will supplement the 1995 guidance.

A first draft of the handbook has been completed (as of April 8, 1999) and an external peer review meeting was held March 24-25, 1999. (See the March 5, 1999 Federal Register.) The draft is not posted on an EPA Website, but interested parties can obtain a single copy of the draft materials by calling EPA's National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP) at 1-800-490-9198. (When contacting NSCEP, please provide your name and mailing address, and request publication number EPA/600/R-99/025 dated March 1999.)

EPA held a workshop for peer review of the draft EPA Risk Characterization Handbook and case studies on March 24-25 in Alexandria, Virginia. Comments received in that forum will be used to revise and complete the handbook and case studies. Additional peer review comments are expected within the next month of so, and then a second draft will be prepared. It is not clear whether further developments and documents regarding this project will be posted on an agency Website. If they are, it will probably be EPA's Science Policy Council Website.

EPA's Science Policy Council published the Risk Characterization Handbook in December 2000. EPA explains that the document "implements EPA's March 1995 Risk Characterization Policy which improved on the foundation of the February 1992 Agency-wide policy for risk characterization. Both the 1992 and 1995 documents point out that '... scientific uncertainty is a fact of life (and) ... a balanced discussion of reliable conclusions and related uncertainties enhances, rather than detracts, from the overall credibility of each assessment '." EPA goes on to explain that "while the role of science to inform but not make decisions is widely recognized in EPA, and in the larger risk assessment and regulatory community, these communities often use the risk assessment number as the stated reason for decisions, not always clearly highlighting the legal, economic, social and other non-scientific issues that also go into the decision." The Risk Characterization Handbook is available here.