Environmental Decision-Making Under Uncertainty

Type: Consensus Study
Topics: Environmental Health
Board: Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice

Activity Description

An ad hoc committee conducted a study and are preparing a report for the Environmental Protection Agency on decision-making about environmental threats to human health under various types of uncertainty. The study considers specific approaches from several areas of public health for informing decisions with quantitative analysis that reflects uncertainty in risks. In addition, it considers methods for communicating uncertainty in risk information with a range of interested parties including environmental decision makers (in the EPA and their state-based partners) and citizens.

Based upon available literature, theory, and experience, the committee provided its best judgment and rationale on how best to use quantitative information on uncertainty in the estimates of risk in order to manage environmental risks to human health and for communicating this information.

Specifically, the committee addressed the following questions:

  1. Are there promising tools and techniques from other areas of public health policy for decision making under uncertainty? What are benefits and drawbacks to these approaches for decision-makers at EPA and their partners?
  2. Are there other ways in which the EPA could benefit from quantitative characterization of uncertainty (e.g., value of information techniques to inform research priorities)? What are the benefits and drawbacks to these approaches?
  3. What approaches for communicating uncertainty could be used to enhance the appropriate use of this risk information? Are there communication techniques to improve the understanding of uncertainty among users of risk information like risk managers, journalists, and citizens?
  4. What implementation challenges would EPA face in adopting these alternative approaches to decision making and communicating uncertainty? What steps should EPA take to address these challenges? Are there interim approaches that EPA could take?

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