Environmental Risk Assessment

Our Earth has been at the receiving end of all the damage caused by man-made and industrial waste. Such damages pose as an inherent hazard to the environment, thus subsequently affecting the world economy.

Such situations call for an assessment of the problems causing the damages. Environmental Risk Assessment is a similar concept. ERA is the procedure in which the inherent hazards involving natural events, technology practises, products, agents and industrial activities, and the risks posed by these are examined. ERA involves a critical review of available data for identifying and estimating the risk associated with a potential threat. The risks are examined in the assessment can be physical, biological or chemical in nature.

ERA helps in identifying risks of an emerging issue, or prioritising further action.  It has provided the basis for legislative and regulatory problems, as well as for international agreements and policy implications. It assesses a spectrum of issues, ranging from hazardous waste clean ups, land and water management, to establishing international quality and guidelines. Industry sectors, finance sectors, private sectors, government bodies, NGO’s, use ERA to examine risks of different natures.  ERA is used in a number of ways:

  • Prioritization of risks: When a company forces a number of potential environmental risks, ERA establishes their relative importance.
  • Site specific evaluation: ERA helps in determining risk associated with locating facilities, or determining risks affecting a particular site.
  • Qualitative risk assessment: ERA can be used to explain the risks in qualitative basis within any facility.
  • Transportation risk assessment: ERA tools can be used to assess risks associated with hazardous substances carried by various models of transport.

ERA faces various challenges, like different methodologies, data deficiencies and lack of active participation of stakeholders. Possible approaches to overcome these issues are harmonisation of assessment methods, protocols and recognising data in assessments, to reduce uncertainty and limitations.

In Australia, the expectations of environmental impact assessment (EIA) continue to grow due to heightened interest in environmental issues, increased public participation and better awareness of EIA processes. In response, government agencies and EIA practitioners in Australia continue to introduce and improve tools for use in EIA. Environmental risk assessment (ERA) is one such tool that has gained prominence. The immediate attraction of ERA is that it provides a systematic, transparent and consistent means to analyse potential environmental impacts.

For effective implementation, risk assessment tools must be capable of providing data relating to ecologically significant processes. This requires a better understanding of biomarkers related to health status, in order to improve their value in monitoring. Assessment of environmental disturbance requires understanding stress effects throughout the hierarchy of biological organisations. An integrated environmental management strategy must be cross disciplinary, if an effective capability is to be developed in relation to resource sustainability.

–         Utsav Gagwani.

(Research, Writing & Photography)