Science Policy Tools: Integrated Assessments
and Characterizations of Risks

Science policy tools for decision making provide the links between the physical, natural, social, and economic sciences and environmental policy. Technical assessments are key tools in formulating national and international environmental policies. To be useful, however, these assessments must be credible to all stakeholders, including the Administration, Congress, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and the public.

Research Needs for Science Policy Tools

Risk assessment is a systematic process for dealing with uncertainty in decision making and for compiling information on the potential impact of chemical, biological, and physical stresses on human health, natural resources, and social systems. Risk assessment provides a framework for organizing and presenting scientific information for making policy and management decisions. Characterizations of risks may be either quantitative or qualitative, depending on the types of data available and the appropriate application of risk estimates to decision making. Integrated Assessment is an analytical process for treating the full causal system of relationships among policies, human systems, and environmental processes. Integrated assessments ensure that interactions between human behavior and environmental change are taken into account appropriately and that the full implications of policies are evaluated. Integrated assessment of health and environmental hazards can also be used to analyze the value of various kinds of information for prioritizing policy- relevant research.

Human health and ecological assessments may address a range of hazards. Hazards may be characterized for exposures to one stressor from a single source, for example, or multiple stressors may be considered simultaneously. The definition of specific end points also may not be straightforward. Whereas some assessments estimate readily observed effects (e.g., death), others may be concerned with intermediate end points such as higher rates of asthma attacks or reversible, but distinct, changes in ecosystem function. Assessments play important roles in considering the significance of issues such as the effects of toxic substances on human health and ecosystems, of biodiversity loss on ecosystem integrity, and of global change on human health and ecosystem function. Of particular importance is the development of means for effective translation and conveyance of scientific knowledge gained from research and providing a forum for involving policymakers in efficiently and effectively understanding the implications of alternative policy options.

Environmental Goal

The Administration's goal is to use assessment methods to characterize, prevent, and reduce health and environmental hazards in the most effective, efficient, and fair manner. Assessments should enhance dialogues about environmental threats between scientists, managers, or policymakers and the public by effectively characterizing the potential costs of over- and under-regulation, as well as the natures and magnitudes of uncertainties and assumptions.

The Administration is committed to strengthening the methods used to perform assessments, and the CENR has developed a set of principles to guide federal agencies. These principles are broad and are intended to be applied flexibly because how particular assessments are conducted will depend on factors such as their purpose, scope, audience, and timeframe.

Objectives for Developing Science Policy Tools

Key Policy Objectives

The greatest challenge facing decision makers today appears to be integrating information on different sorts of environmental threats into decisions about the most effective and efficient allocation of resources. Hazards vary not only in their source or cause (e.g., the use of hazardous chemicals, natural hazards, technological failures) but also in the types of end points they produce, in their scales (both temporally and spatially), and in their distributions across space and time. Assessments may provide a means to organize and compare information about risks associated with very different activities or sources and very different end points. Different types of data, both in their units of measurement and in their availability and reliability, may also be aggregated and/or compared.

The assessment process is integral to decision making through integration of the understanding of the relevant sciences, socioeconomics, and policy necessary for better decisions. Criteria can be developed to define when an assessment might improve policy decisions and for framing and bounding assessments so they are most appropriate and effective for policy decisions.

Principles for Environmental Assessments

Areas of Enhanced Emphasis

Ongoing and future research strategies must focus on strengthening the methods and models used for assessments, as well as continuing to build the foundations of scientific data upon which they are based. There is a growing recognition, for example, that exposure to environmental contaminants may cause a variety of noncancer health effects such as reproductive, developmental, immunological, and neurological effects, as well as a broad array of adverse ecological impacts.

Selected Milestones, 1995 - 1998

Research Successes - Science Policy Tools

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