• Characterization of the expected effect of new incinerators, or of what might happen in the future with any incinerator.

Such risk assessments are congruent with most regulatory schemes—the principal inputs to risk assessments are also characteristics of incinerators that are usually regulated, for example, emission rates.

The lack of complete data leads to uncertainties involved and the problem of communicating such uncertainties. Those uncertainties arise from the following:

  • The lack of complete emission data, especially for nonstandard operating conditions.

  • The problem of dose-response assessment at low doses, and in particular of low-dose, cross-species, inter-route, and temporal dose-pattern extrapolation.

  • The lack of toxicity data on most products of incomplete combustion.

  • The lack of physical and chemical information on relevant characteristics of substances of concern.

  • The use of unverified models of transport of substances in the environment, due to incomplete knowledge as to how such transport occurs.

  • The variability of all aspects of the assessment, due to variations in physical conditions (e.g., topography, temperatures, rainfall, soil types, and meteorological conditions), characteristics of people (e.g., eating habits, residence times, age, and susceptibility), and so on, leading to wide ranges of exposures and risks for different people.

  • The possibility of errors and omissions in the assessment (e.g., omission of an important pathway of exposure).

Because of the variability and uncertainty, most risk assessments have not been designed to quantify actual health risks; rather they have been designed solely for regulatory purposes to yield upper-bound estimates of health risks that may be compared to regulatory criteria.

Other Tools

Environmental monitoring and biological markers of exposure or effect are two tools often used in conjunction with epidemiologic or risk assessment investigations. These tools aid in identifying or confirming pollutants that may give rise to adverse health effects. Life-cycle assessment (LCA) has been used to evaluate the resource consumption and environmental burdens associated with a product, process, package, or activity throughout its lifetime over large geographic regions. LCA can be used in conjunction with risk assessments to assess effects over a broad scale—from the time of introduction of a chemical into the environment to its destruction.

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