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Risk Assessment: Science & Policy Challenges

Course Number
ENVS 616 660
Course Code
Course Key
Course Note
Fulfills MES Concentration Env Policy/MSAG Env Geology Elective
Course Description
How do government policy-makers make decisions about potential threats to human health and the environment in the face of scientific uncertainty? The course develops the concept of Risk Assessment from the publication of the 1983 National Research Council (NRC) report commonly known as the "Red Book" which was used to rank the initial hazardous waste sites under the Superfund program. Using a variety of teaching tools, including lectures, panel discussions, and case studies, the course examines how public policy decisions regarding environmental risk are made and how effective those decisions are at reducing risks to affected populations. The course focuses on the complex interaction of science, economics, politics, laws, and regulations in dealing with environmental and public health risks. The course will begin with a review of the policy process and methods used in evaluating human health and environmental risks, including the traditional steps in the risk assessment process, including quantitative and qualitative aspects of hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, and risk characterization. The course will then focus on how scientific uncertainty, risk perceptions, socio-economic disparities, risk communication, and politics influence environmental risk-based decision-making. Issues such as special populations (e.g., children, elderly, immune-compromised, woman of pregnancy age, etc.) must be considered when developing risk reduction strategies. The use of the "precautionary principle" will be discussed in the context of different types of environmental stressors (e.g., pesticides, chemicals, climate change, air pollution, water quality, and land use) and how this important controversial principle is applied differently in contrasting national and European risk management policies.
Subject Area Vocab