Risk Assessment - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is a science-based tool that is used to evaluate the effects of a chemical or substance, activity, lifestyle or natural phenomenon on human health and/or the environment. Risk assessment utilizes the best available scientific information, as well as professional judgment and policy, to estimate risks, and ultimately to help government agencies and the public make informed decisions about preventing and reducing risks. Health risk assessment is also used to identify vulnerable populations (e.g., infants, children, elderly) who may be at a higher risk from exposure to environmental health hazards, and to identify the hazards that pose the greatest risks to public health.

We collaborate with staff from a variety of disciplines, including chemistry, physiology, toxicology, exposure assessment, biostatistics, risk communications and risk assessment. We also consult with staff from other programs with expertise in environmental epidemiology, environmental sampling, laboratory testing and analysis, biostatistics, emergency preparedness and counterterrorism.

The Four-Step Process

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In the first step, scientists examine peer-reviewed studies of effects in humans, and laboratory animals, to determine the types of health problems a chemical can cause. Depending on the chemical, these health effects may include short-term (acute) ailments, such as headaches, rashes, and ear, nose and throat irritation; or chronic diseases, such as cancer. An important part of this step is an evaluation of the nature and strength of the evidence of causation between a chemical and an effect.
In this step, scientists estimate the amount, frequency, and duration of exposure to a chemical. They often use environmental monitoring data and mathematical models to estimate exposures. Scientists also evaluate the route of exposure (i.e., inhalation, ingestion, dermal contact, transplacental transfer) and any other scenario-specific exposure information.
In this step, scientists use the data gathered in Step 1 to estimate the amount of a chemical that is likely to result in a particular health effect. Dose-response assessment is the characterization of the relationship between exposure or dose and the incidence and severity of the adverse health effect. This step includes the evaluation of factors that influence dose-response relationships, such as intensity and pattern of exposure, and age and lifestyle variables that could affect susceptibility.
Based on the information gathered during steps 1-3, scientists estimate the probability or likelihood of risk(s) to the exposed population. An important part of this step is a discussion of the uncertainties and limitations associated with risk estimates.
Health risk assessments often have a considerable degree of uncertainty because of the limitations of available human exposure and toxicity data. When limited data are available, scientists use conservative assumptions based on the best available scientific information to protect public health. As new data become available, scientists incorporate new information, as appropriate, by conducting refined assessments to improve risk estimates.

How We Use Health Risk Assessment in Minnesota

Minnesota state and local agencies use health risk assessment to evaluate environmental health hazards, develop risk assessment and environmental health policy, take regulatory action to protect health and the environment, and share information about health risks with the public.

  • Biomonitoring Projects

  • Biomonitoring projects measure levels of chemicals in Minnesotans to promote public health actions to reduce chemical exposures.
  • Children's Environmental Health

  • A focus on chemical contaminants and their resulting health effects from exposure from pre-conception through adolescence.
  • Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC)

  • A Clean Water Fund initiative to better understand our exposures to and the health risks of CECs in water and to promote pollution prevention efforts that reduce environmental released of emerging contaminants.
  • Fish Consumption Advice

  • Guidelines for eating fish while avoiding excess amounts of naturally occurring contaminants.
  • Hazardous Sites and Substances

  • Investigations, events, and guidance related to hazardous sites and substances.
  • Minnesota Guidance

  • Health-based guidance for chemicals in air, groundwater, and other environmental media in response to requests from programs within MDH and from other Minnesota state agencies.
  • Pesticides

  • Resources about safe pesticide application and storage at homes and schools.
  • Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment

  • A mathematical modeling approach for estimating the risk of infection in humans from an exposure to a pathogen.

Health risk assessment also is used to identify vulnerable populations (e.g., infants, children, elderly) who may be at a higher risk from exposure to environmental health hazards, and to identify the hazards that pose the greatest risks to public health.

Learn about MDH's Clean Water Fund Activities.

For more information, contact the Health Risk Assessment Unit.

Updated Wednesday, 10-Aug-2022 09:21:06 CDT