Exposure to Toxic Pollutants: Assessing Potential Human Health Risk
- Richard Olawoyin (Oakland University)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- February 2017
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 40 - 45
- 2017. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 48 since 2007
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- Human health risk assessment (HHRA) is designed to evaluate the condition and likelihood of unfavorable health outcomes in people who may or will be exposed to hazardous chemicals through contaminated environmental materials.
- HHRA is a well-known method for appraising the potential for unfavorable human health outcomes from exposures or anticipated exposures to toxic materials.
- The aim of an HHRA is to evaluate the potential chemicals of concern, possible exposure routes and pathways directly linked to a location of interest.
- This article provides the basic information needed to conduct an HHRA for students or entry-level professionals and others with concerns about the potential health effects of hazardous chemicals.
Human health risk assessment (HHRA) is a systematic tool designed to provide answers to concerning questions in mitigating environmental risks. Depending on the exposure amount of chemicals to humans, beneficial or harmful consequences may ensue. The determination of whether a certain substance or chemical of concern (COC) poses substantial health risk to humans is made using the HHRA method.
Assessing the risks posed by noxious COCs in the environment entails compiling, evaluating and interpreting complex sets of data. Epidemiologic studies are conducted to investigate the connections between toxic chemical exposures and health problems in an area; the goal of these studies is to assess the effects of past chemical exposures in relation to acknowledged health issues in a particular population.
However, HHRAs estimate the impacts of current or future exposures to COCs and associated human health risks in the general population. In this case, since the study plan is to assess risk to human health from substances that will be emitted, HHRA is the appropriate tool to use. Generally, HHRA requires good professional judgment and thorough science, which is a continuously evolving process.
The objectives of an HHRA are to:
- define and determine the scale and proximity of potential adverse effects of several COCs to human health, and human physiological reaction to the COC;
- suggest appropriate mitigation measures and alternatives to the potential risks;
- provide baseline analysis (comparison of all existing conditions including present exposures and possible emerging risks);
- determine the toxicity of materials and potential COCs that might affect human health;
- systematically evaluate COC interactions and documentation of potential human health risks.
Steps Involved in Human Health Risk Assessment
Planning an HHRA should focus on the categories of potential health effects that may ensue from exposures to hazardous COCs; the probability that human health will be negatively affected due to exposures to varying concentrations of hazardous environmental stressors; determination of the magnitude of exposure (dose), frequency and duration of exposure; and assessing the effects of these environmental stressors on vulnerable groups (e.g., job functions with higher exposure rates, body weight of individual exposed, age, gender).
Two basic types of evaluations may be considered when planning an HHRA: hazard-based screening and baseline HHRA (EPA, 2003). However, HHRA mainly involve four steps as illustrated in Figure 1 (p. 42). Each step should be completed in accordance with the guidance provided by EPA (2003). Proper planning toward carrying out an HHRA will help the evaluator gain a better understanding of potential risks to human health from exposures to hazardous COCs. Before proceeding with the HHRA’s four steps, it is important to clearly define the aim and scope of the study, so the professional must first conduct an assessment planning and scoping of the human health assessment (HHA).
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