What is risk assessment?

In the environmental field, risk assessment is a study to determine the magnitude of the effects of a specific contamination on human health or living organisms. It is applicable for issues involving toxic, radioactive or pathogenic agents in order to assess the risk of contaminants under study-specific conditions. In general, a risk assessment describes the behaviour and fate of contaminants in the environment and the food chain to determine population exposure levels, gathers scientific data on the effects of the agents to determine safe exposure levels, and assesses risks by comparing population exposure levels to established safe levels.


Risk assessment is part of an environmental management process
based on risks.

The advantages of this approach are numerous:

  • Risk assessment addresses site-specific conditions; these conditions can greatly influence the risks to which persons or living organisms are exposed;
  • Risk assessment identifies real risks arising from contamination, even when no standards (criteria or guideline) for a given substance or pathogenic agent exist; accordingly, this approach is often safer than using arbitrary generic standards;
  • Risk-based management is often considerably less expensive than the more traditional approach based on meeting generic standards.