Opening Plenary Presentations
Terry F. Yosie Building Ecological Risk Assessment As A Policy Tool
Terry F. Yosie, vice president for health and environment of the American Petroleum Institute and former director of the Science Advisory Board, EPA, provided a broad policy view of issues related to ecological risk assessment. Dr. Yosie noted first that ecological risks have only recently been placed on the nation's policy agenda, in response to increasing public awareness of acid deposition, ozone depletion, climatic change, and other real or potential ecological problems. National and international concern for the environment will stimulate the search for methods and tools for managing ecological risks in the same way that concerns over environmental sources of cancer have stimulated the development of scientific methods and policy tools for regulating human exposure to carcinogens.
Dr. Yosie then posed six questions that must be answered as part of the development of ecological risk assessment methods.
What is ecological risk assessment?
Why is it needed?
What are the key methodological issues in using ecological risk assessment as a policy tool?
What appropriate lessons can be learned from the health risk assessment experience?
How should ecological risk assessment be applied?
What are the needs and future directions for ecological risk assessment?
On the first question, Dr. Yosie noted that previous definitions of ecological risk assessment have ranged from simple statements of principle, such as the definition proposed by the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC, 1987),
a set of formal scientific methods for estimating the probabilities and magnitudes of undesired effects [on plants, animals, and ecosystems] resulting from the release of chemicals, other human actions, or natural catastrophes.
to elaborate schemes for tiered toxicity testing, such as the hazard evaluation procedure used by the Monsanto Corporation (Kimerle et al., 1978). He suggested that an intermediate level of complexity is needed so that the risk assessment methods are simple and accessible enough for writers, policy analysts, and journalists to use with ease, but also technical enough to be useful to scientists and be responsive to advances in science.
Dr. Yosie provided three reasons why policy makers need ecological risk assessment. First, ecological risk assessments can help policy makers correctly diagnose environmental problems before the problems become crises. As an example, he cited EPA's assessment of the health and ecological risks of stratospheric ozone depletion, which stimulated the development of an international agreement to phase out chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFCs). Second, risk assessment is needed to set priorities, as was recently done in the EPA Science Advisory Board Report Reducing Risk (EPA, 1990). Third, risk assessment is needed to delineate the link between rational choices and societal values. The debate over global climate change, for example, is ultimately a debate over the responsibility of the current generation to future generations. Risk assessment can clarify the debate by making explicit the climate change consequences of different policy proposals.
As to the methodological issues central to using ecological risk assess-
ment as a policy tool, Dr. Yosie identified the determination of baseline conditions of ecosystems as a means of assessing the need for protection from development and the estimation of the magnitude of naturally-occurring environmental change in the absence of human intervention.
Dr. Yosie noted that, despite some successes, health risk assessment had yielded few lessons in health-policy decision-making. In part, the failure reflects that it has been more difficult than anticipated to develop and apply health risk assessment methods. In addition, health risk assessments have often been colored by ideological considerations (e.g., arguments over the concept of the maximum exposed individual) or have bogged down over technical questions (e.g., the relevance of rodent data to human risk). In Dr. Yosie's view, these debates have not assisted policy-makers in making informed public health decisions, but they can and they should. There will be increased pressure from EPA, Congress, and the private sector to address broader questions. There is a danger that ecological risk assessment will follow a similarly narrow path, but there is still time to prevent this from happening.
Dr. Yosie provided two examples of how ecological risk assessment can be applied in policy making. Both government and industry, for different reasons, need ecological risk assessment as an aid in contingency planning for and response to oil spills and other kinds of accidents that have ecological impacts. The U.S. oil industry alone will spend more than $900 million over the next 5 years in improving its capability to prevent or respond to oil spills; ecological risk assessment can aid in ensuring cost effectiveness. Similarly, ecological risk assessment can contribute to implementation of total quality management, which is being adopted in many organizations; pollutant releases or obvious ecological impacts can be indicators of inefficient operation.
Finally, Dr. Yosie tried to map out the future of ecological risk assessment with a conceptual policy-triangle. One part of the triangle is ecological risk assessment, which identifies ecological problems, assesses their magnitudes, and provides a perspective on priorities. The second part of the triangle is pollution prevention, aided by the insights provided by ecological risk assessment. Ecological risk assessment and pollution prevention support the third leg, sustainable development. Sustainable development assumes a balanced approach whereby economic growth and environmental improvements proceed together to improve both living standards and the quality of human life and ecosystems.