Science and Law
30th December 2013

Five Mistakes Toxicologists Make When Performing Risk Assessments

You probably know how important risk assessment is when evaluating putative chemical hazards. But it might surprise you to learn that toxicologists often misapply widely accepted risk assessment techniques.

Five Mistakes Toxicologists Make When Performing Risk Assessments

You probably know how important risk assessment is when evaluating putative chemical hazards. But it might surprise you to learn that toxicologists often misapply widely accepted risk assessment techniques. That’s exactly what researchers with the http://www.cmpa.com/ (CMPA) at George Mason University found when they interviewed 186 members of the three leading professional societies in toxicology and risk assessment.

According to the CMPA’s report, http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/id/rlen-9e5rk6/$File/GMU-Study-Document4.pdf, toxicologists routinely make the following five mistakes when conducting risk assessments:

  1. Proceed without a plan: Only 30% of respondents said they formally articulate the problem and develop an analysis plan before conducting a risk assessment, even though nearly 70% agreed this step was important.
  2. Overlook data acquisition protocols: Only 24% of respondents reported that they often or always use standardized protocols to evaluate the available data, although 90% affirmed the importance of such protocols.
  3. Ignore valid weight of the evidence methodologies: Less than half of respondents said they regularly use a valid, consistent and transparent weight of evidence methodology.
  4. Fail to obtain input from peers: Less than 33% of respondents said they gather input from peers, even though 75% agreed external peer review is very important.
  5. Formulate  decisions independent of the data: Less than half of respondents said that risk management decisions are based on an understanding of current data in the biology and toxicology fields.

The CMPA’s findings confirm the importance of proper risk assessment methodologies, but reveal how seldom such methodologies are appropriately applied. These failures explain why we often see opposing expert witnesses formulate conclusions based on hasty and superficial evaluations. We’re often called on to help attorneys in toxic tort cases push back against opposing experts on methodological grounds.

The following sources, which discuss risk assessment methodologies, can be helpful when confronting opposing experts:

* Presentations from the August 2013 EPA workshop, “http://www.epa.gov/iris/irisworkshops/systematicreview/wrk_agenda.htm

* The European Food Safety Authority’s 2010 publication, “Application of systematic review methodology to food and feed safety assessment to support decision making”

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