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The Use of Epidemiology in Risk Assessment: Challenges and Opportunities

Christensen, Krista, Christensen, Carol H., Wright, J. Michael, Galizia, Audrey, Glenn, Barbara S., Scott, Cheryl Siegel, Mall, Jennifer K., Bateson, Thomas F., Murphy, Patricia A., Cooper, Glinda S.
Human and ecological risk assessment 2015 v.21 no.6 pp. 1644-1663
dose response, epidemiology, health hazards, human development, human health, humans, risk, risk assessment, risk assessors, toxicology
The assessment of risk from environmental and occupational exposures incorporates and synthesizes data from a variety of scientific disciplines including toxicology and epidemiology. Epidemiological data have offered valuable contributions to the identification of human health hazards, estimation of human exposures, quantification of the exposure–response relation, and characterization of risks to specific target populations including sensitive populations. As with any scientific discipline, there are some uncertainties inherent in these data; however, the best human health risk assessments utilize all available information, characterizing strengths and limitations as appropriate. Human health risk assessors evaluating environmental and occupational exposures have raised concerns about the validity of using epidemiological data for risk assessment due to actual or perceived study limitations. This article highlights three concerns commonly raised during the development of human health risk assessments of environmental and occupational exposures: (a) error in the measurement of exposure, (b) potential confounding, and (c) the interpretation of non-linear or non-monotonic exposure–response data. These issues are often the content of scientific disagreement and debate among the human health risk assessment community, and we explore how these concerns may be contextualized, addressed, and often ameliorated.