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The word 'risk' has two distinct meanings. It can mean in one context a
hazard or a danger, that is, an exposure to mischance or peril. In the other context,
risk is interpreted more narrowly to mean the probability or chance of suffering an
adverse consequence, or of encountering some loss.
Risk Analysis or Risk Assessment is a process that evaluates the likelihood or
probability that adverse effects may occur to environmental values, as a result of
human activities (i.e., a formal procedure for identifying and estimating the risk of
environmental damage).
The ERA or Environmental Risk Analysis procedure is triggered prior to a significant
decision affecting the environment. It can be broken into three broad stages:
preparation, involving collecting and examining relevant background
information, and establishing the focus for the assessment;
conducting the assessment; and,
interpreting, reporting and applying results of the assessment.

Risk assessment was described as having three interrelated components: risk

identification, risk estimation and risk evaluation.
Risk Identification
Risk identification simply means recognizing that a hazard exists and trying
to define its characteristics. Often risks exist and are even measured for some time
before their adverse consequences are recognized. In other cases, risk identification
is a deliberate procedure to review, and it is hoped anticipate, possible hazards.
Risk Estimation
This is the scientific determination of the characteristics of risks, usually in as
quantitative a way as possible. These include the magnitude, spatial scale, duration
and intensity of adverse consequences and their associated probabilities as well as
a description of the cause and effect links. Both risk estimation and identification
can involve modelling, monitoring, screening and diagnosis. The main purpose of
these two management functions is to understand the environmental system and its
complex pathways and processes through which risks occur.
Risk Evaluation

The third component of risk assessment is risk evaluation in which

judgements are made about the significance and acceptability of risk probabilities
and consequences. This stage is central to policy determination. Evaluation
techniques seek to compare risks against one another, and against benefits, as well
as providing ways in which the social acceptability of risks can be judged. Indeed,
any judgement about social acceptability combines both political and managerial
decisions since it inevitably involves a calculation of who is likely to benefit and who
to suffer, and what compensation, if any, should be paid.
The information and advice provided to risk managers may be qualitative or
Qualitative information may include:
statements or evidence that the chemical is of no toxicological
concern owing to the absence of toxicity even at high exposure
statements or evidence that the chemical is safe in the context of
specified uses; and
recommendations to avoid, minimize or reduce exposure.
Quantitative information may include:
a comparison of dietary exposures with health-based guidance
estimates of risks at different levels of dietary exposure;
risks at minimum and maximum dietary intakes (e.g. nutrients);
margins of exposure.
Risk Analysis involves six basic steps:
STEP 1 - Establish the Context for ERA
STEP 2 - Identify and Characterize Key Environmental
STEP 3 - Specify Environmental Values and Indicators for the


STEP 4 - Characterize Environmental Trends, Indicator

Relationships and Establish Risk Classes
STEP 5 - Evaluate Changes to Indicators and Risks
STEP 6 - Report Results and Develop Risk Reduction Strategies


Before carrying out an environmental risk assessment it is important to
clearly set out the problem being addressed and the boundaries within which any
decisions on environmental risk are to be made. This is sometimes known as
problem formulation and can typically define the risk of what, to whom (or which
part of the environment), where (location) and when (in time). This can also assist in
selecting the level and types of assessment methodology to be used in the
environmental risk assessment itself.
Environmental risk assessment can be thought of as containing the following
key stages.
1. Hazard identification. This would typically include identification of the property
or situation that could lead to harm.
2. Identification of the consequences if the hazard was to occur.
3. Estimation of the magnitude of the consequences. This can include
consideration of the spatial and temporal scale of the consequences and the time to

onset of the consequences. When considering chemicals, this step can sometimes
be termed release assessment.
4. Estimation of the probability of the consequences. There are three
components to this, the presence of the hazard, the probability of the receptors
being exposed to the hazard and the probability of harm resulting from exposure to
the hazard. This step can sometimes be called exposure assessment or
consequence assessment.
5. Evaluating the significance of a risk (often termed risk characterisation or
risk estimation) is the product of the likelihood of the hazard being realised and the
severity of the consequences. This step may also consider the uncertainty
associated with both the hazard and the risk.
A concept frequently used in environmental risk assessment is that of the
source pathway receptor. In this conceptual model the pathway between a
hazard source (for example a source of contamination) and a receptor (for example
a particular ecosystem) is investigated. The pathway is the linkage by which the
receptor could come into contact with the source (a number of pathways often need
to be considered). If no pathway exists then no risk exists. If a pathway exists
linking the source to the receptor, then the consequences of this are determined.
Example Sources

Contaminated soils
Contaminated water
Leaking drums
Industrial process

Example Pathways

Food chain

Example Receptors
Domestic and
commercial property
Controlled waters

At the end of the risk assessment process, existing controls should be

recorded and further measures may need to be considered to reduce or eliminate
the risks identified. Detailed consideration of risk management is beyond the scope
of this paper but, in general terms, risk management can be achieved by reducing
or modifying the source, by managing or breaking the pathway and/or modifying the
The final stage is the evaluation of the significance of the risk which involves
placing it in a context, for example with respect to an environmental standard or
other criterion defined in legislation, statutory or good practice guidance.
Some examples of the use of environmental risk analysis are given below.
Assessing the impacts of chemicals used at existing sites (for example for the
Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations (1999),
Environmental Permitting Regulations (2010) and other similar legislation).
Assessing the impacts of products generated by individual companies/sites
due to their use or transport etc.
Assessing potential impacts of new developments, new sites or new
processes as part of the planning.
Assessing the impacts of products, processes or services over their life cycle
(life cycle assessment or LCA). An EHSC note on LCA is available (see
Consideration of risks to the environment in a companys environmental
management system (EMS) or eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS).
Such schemes are based on continual environmental improvement in which
risk assessment plays an important part.

Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals

Regulation. Environmental risk assessment is a key component of
determining the safe use of chemicals under this legislation.