• Article

A framework for risk characterization of environmental pollutants

Risk characterization is defined by both the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. EPA as the estimation of human health risk due to harmful (i.e., toxic or carcinogenic) substances or organisms. Risk characterization studies are accomplished by integrating quantitative exposure estimates and dose-response relationships with the qualitative results of hazard identification. A Risk Characterization Framework has been developed to encourage a systematic approach for analysis and presentation of risk estimates. This methodology subdivides the four common components of the risk assessment process into ten elements. Each of these elements is based on a term in a predictive risk equation. The equation allows independent computations of exposure, dose, lifetime individual risk, and risk to affected populations. All key assumptions in the predictive risk equation can be explicitly shown. This is important to understand the basis and inherent uncertainties of the risk estimation process. The systematic treatment of each of the ten elements in this framework aids in the difficult job of comparing risk estimates by different researchers using different methodologies. The Risk Characterization Framework has been applied to various indoor and outdoor air pollutants of a carcinogenic nature. With further development, it also promises to be applicable to noncarcinogenic effects


Naugle, D., & Pierson, T. (1991). A framework for risk characterization of environmental pollutants. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 41(10), 1298-1307.