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Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making
1994, 1996; President/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997a,b) and global environmental change assessment (National Research Council, 2007a). Government science agencies at various levels and in different countries have increasingly engaged publics in environmental assessments (Kasemir et al., 2003). Examples include the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/nacc/default.htm), the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (http://www.maweb.org/en/index.aspx), and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (http://www.acia.uaf.edu/) (see National Research Council, 2007a).
The Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management (1997b:75-76) offered, in the report subsection on “Identifying Highly Exposed Populations,” a compelling example of how public participation in environmental assessment can contribute to “getting the science right” by gathering important information for analysis that is not otherwise available.
Some population groups are at increased risk for toxic effects of chemical exposures because their exposures are greater than those of other population groups. Cultural practices, occupational exposures, behavior patterns, eating habits, and effects of related chemicals can be responsible. The high-risk subpopulations might be of special concern when risk assessments are conducted and risk management decisions are made. Risk assessors often have not sought information from knowledgeable citizens and consequently have not explicitly considered specific exposure conditions that might be present in minority group communities, certain occupational settings, or areas of particular socioeconomic status.
The commission recommended broad participation and further acknowledged the possibility that public engagement might even enhance the quality of risk management decision making (Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, 1997b:76-77):
Affected parties should be consulted in the early stages of an assessment to obtain information about all known sources of exposure to a particular chemical and related chemicals and to characterize exposure factors peculiar to particular subpopulations…. Specific information gathered from the community and stakeholders could reduce the need for default assumptions and improve the quality of risk assessments…. Community assistance in characterizing exposure factors peculiar to particular segments of the population can focus a risk assessment and broaden risk management options.
There are relatively few careful analyses comparing different degrees of public participation in comparable environmental assessments. As we note