mixtures are formed when a tank mixture—active ingredients, inerts, and adjuvants—combines with other chemicals in the environment from other sources. Ideally, assessments should be based on exposure to all pesticide components and to other chemicals that are present in the exposure environment. However, quantitative estimates of exposure to environmental mixtures are difficult given the dynamic state of environmental mixtures over space and time. In any given location, the amounts of pesticide active ingredients, inerts, adjuvants, and other environmental chemicals are highly variable and depend on pesticide uses and other sources of environmental contamination.
EPA recognizes the potential importance of exposure to mixtures but typically assesses only pesticide active ingredients. The Services have expressed substantial concern about the need to account for mixture exposure but have dealt with the issue only with a qualitative discussion in their assessments. The greatest concern is that a mixture component might act to enhance the toxicity of a pesticide active ingredient. The committee notes that a quantitative assessment of the risk posed by chemical mixtures requires extensive data, including data on the identity, concentration, and toxicity of mixture components. Challenges in assessing risk to listed species posed by pesticide-containing mixtures arise largely because of the lack of such data and the lack of understanding of the potential for interactions among mixture components. In the absence of such quantitative data, the possible contribution of specific mixture components to the toxicity of a pesticide active ingredient cannot be incorporated into a quantitative risk assessment. The committee, however, emphasizes that the complexity of assessing the risk posed by chemical mixtures should not paralyze the process, and it provides guidelines in Chapter 4 of its report to help in determining when and how to consider components other than a pesticide active ingredient in a risk assessment.
RISK CHARACTERIZATION AND UNCERTAINTY
Risk characterization is the final stage of a risk assessment in which the results of the exposure and effects analyses are integrated to provide decision-makers with a risk estimate and its associated uncertainty. Two general approaches have been used for risk characterization: the risk-quotient (RQ) approach, which compares point estimates of exposure and effect values, and the probabilistic approach, which evaluates the probability that exposure to a chemical will lead to a specified adverse effect at some future time.
The RQ approach does not estimate risk—the probability of an adverse effect—itself but rather relies on there being a large margin between a point estimate that is derived to maximize a pesticide’s environmental concentration and a point estimate that is derived to minimize the concentration at which a specified adverse effect is not expected. If the results raise doubts regarding the possibility of an adverse effect, the common response is to widen the margin by, for example, adding uncertainty factors or assuming more stringent, and possibly