Environmental Protection Agency: Use of Precautionary Assumptions in Health Risk Assessments and Benefits Estimates
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON DC
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Some of the Environmental Protection Agencys EPA regulations set standards that limit environmental contaminants to levels that are determined, in large part, on the basis of the health risks they pose. For example, EPA sets health-based air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. For such actions, EPA also estimates the benefits of the health-based standards. These benefits primarily represent the estimated dollar value of reductions in assessed risks to human health-illnesses and deaths avoided as a result of decreased pollution. However, when EPA assesses the health risks of contaminants, the agency is faced with uncertainties and gaps in scientific knowledge and data. As a result, EPAs risk assessments include assumptions about the relationship between specific contaminants and health effects, some of which are precautionary that is, they are intended to ensure that the agency does not underestimate health risks. But using such precautionary assumptions to estimate benefits could produce overly optimistic estimates of the benefits of regulatory actions.
- Medicine and Medical Research