Accounting for Sensitive Populations when Setting Pollution Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory agencies are required to set safe exposure levels for contaminants and pollutants in our environment. This process involves conducting a risk assessment for each chemical. In order to assess the risk a chemical poses to the population the assessor must survey current research about the chemicals toxicity, the adverse effects caused by chemical exposure, and determine how much exposure we receive through various environmental media, such as water, air, food, and soil.

If quantitative scientific evidence shows a higher sensitivity to certain subpopulations, as was found with the effects of lead on children, then the exposure of this population is used as the basis for calculating safe exposure levels.

If there is no scientific evidence indicating a particular higher sensitivity group, the group with the highest exposure is used. With regards to pesticide residue tolerances, the EPA needs to ensure that infants and children are protected. An uncertainty factor or safety factor is applied in leu of what is unknown.

For more information about risk assessment see the EXTOXNET FAQ on Risk Assessment.




This page was prepared by Theresa L. Pedersen, UCD EXTOXNET FAQ Team. August 1997.