Research Archives


Life Quality Index


Risk Assessment, Management and Communication




Risk Assessment Information as Input to Public Decision-Making
Provision of Comprehensive, Probabilistic Risk Assessment Methods
Application of Risk Communication Framework for Risk Analysis

In 1994, Drs. John Shortreed, Frank Saccomanno of the University of Waterloo and Dr. Stephen Ramsay of the University of Western Ontario completed a comprehensive, probabilistic transportation risk assessment study for the Alberta Special Waste Management System. The report documents the risks of transporting wastes to the Swan Hills Treatment Centre of Chem- Security (Alberta) Ltd. In the study, Review of the Transportation Risk Assessment Submitted by Chem-Security (Alberta) Ltd. for Proposed Expansion of Swan Hills Waste Treatment Centre, the IRR introduced a number of innovative risk analysis and risk management techniques that attempted to provide decision-makers (in this case AlbertaUs Natural Resources Conservation Board) with a basis for the assessment of risks including the effects of changes in operating procedures, changes in travel routes, and changes in waste composition. The risk analysis innovations described in the contract report include:

Presentation of the risk analysis in a "risk communication" framework (i.e., 10 key questions Albertans wanted answered);
Accurate representation of the waste streams, avoiding the use of "worst case" assumptions;
Analysis of accident rates based on estimates for individual road sections using a province wide accident analysis;
Use of probabilistic analysis rather than expected value analysis; and
Development of a family of consequence models that can deal with many waste streams and many different accident situations.

Assessing Potential Health Impacts of Environmental Airborne Emissions
Detailed Multi-Pathway Exposure Assessment of Environmental Airborne Emissions
Independent Review of Assessment
Risk Assessment of Dioxin and Furan Emissions

In April 1994, Dr. John Hicks of Ryerson Polytechnic University and Dr. Steve McColl of the University of Waterloo completed a contract on Risk Assessment of Dioxin & Furan Emissions from the Elk Falls Power Boiler. This study, Health Risk Assessment of Airborne Dioxin and Furan Emissions at the Elk Falls Pulp Mill, evaluates the health risk to local populations from exposure to airborne emissions of dioxins and furans from the No. 5 power boiler at the Fletcher Challenge Canada pulpmill in Elk Falls, British Columbia. The study was co-funded by: Natural Resources Canada (Program on Energy Research and Development); Environment Canada; and Health Canada. The IRR work has lead to a subsequent research contract with Health Canada to examine "Probabilistic Risk Assessment and Uncertainty Analysis of Emissions of PCBs, PAHs, and PM10 from the Elk Falls Power Boiler".

In March 1995, Dr. John Hicks of Ryerson Polytechnic University and Dr. Steve McColl of the University of Waterloo completed an "Exposure Assessment of Airborne Dioxins and Furans Emitted from the EDC/VCM Facility at the Dow Chemical Canada Fort Saskatchewan Site" to determine the potential for human health effects on populations in the vicinity of the plant. Exposure was estimated from dispersion modelling and consideration of background exposure from environmental and food sources. The IRR report also discusses the difficulties in assessing human health effects given the controversy regarding dioxin toxicity. The exposure resulting from the plant was compared to background sources and regulatory exposure standards.

In the aforementioned exposure modelling study the exposure of local livestock was not examined as original queries indicated that the were only grains and rapeseed oil harvested in the vicinity of the Dow facility. An external reviewer of the exposure assessment study suggested that pathways for exposure to dioxins/furans from consumption of agricultural produce need to be addressed. A modelling study ("Preliminary Characterization of Agricultural Dioxin Exposure") was commissioned by Dow Chemical Canada Ltd. to provide the first approximation predicted values for agricultural exposure to dioxins and furans from the Dow facility.

Balancing Risks, Costs, and Benefits of Hazardous and Solid Waste
Integrated approach to hazardous and solid waste management

In 1992, the Canadian Battery Manufacturer's Association funded IRR to undertake an independent investigation into the impacts of used household battery disposal and management practices on the environment, including an evaluation of the potential risks associated with the identified options. Dr. Murray Haight lead the interdisciplinary IRR team that produced the report Assessing the Environmental Effects of Disposal Alternatives for Household Batteries. The report discusses the issues relating to used dry-cell battery disposal practices, their potential impacts on the environment, the potential risks to humans, and offers recommendations for what is considered as acceptable disposal practices for used household batteries.

In 1991, Dr. Daniel Duah completed a risk-cost-benefit assessment of the economic and environmental implications of the toxic/hazardous waste trade on West Africa while on a World Bank Fellowship. His policy report "The Economic and Environmental Implications of the Hazardous Waste Trade on West Africa" presents the results of an investigation of the potential environmental and economic impacts to developing communities from indiscriminate disposal of hazardous wastes; the special focus is on West Africa. The investigation was designed to provide the necessary tools to help answer the question: "Should the toxic/hazardous waste trade be encouraged, and under what terms or circumstances should it be approved?"

Another important contribution to waste management is the IRR publication Municipal Solid Waste Management: Making Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty. This volume is intended to assist those involved in the decision-making process for municipal solid waste management in selecting effective, integrative management strategies. The various options (landfilling, combustion and the 3R's) are evaluated from risk assessment and risk management perspectives. The health and environmental risks, economic implications, principles of operation and future directions of each of these municipal solid waste management strategies are explored. The contributions are from various professions including industry, government departments, consultants and academia. Their treatment of the issues addresses the needs of other professionals as well as those of the public in general.

Ineffective and Inefficient Allocation of Public Resources for Health and Safety
Development of a framework and index to evaluate health and safety policy

IRR has examined general policy areas. For example, Drs. Niels Lind, Jatin Nathwani, and Ernest Siddall developed an analysis framework for better resource allocation in characterizing and managing risks in the public interest (Lind et al., 1991) and then applied the framework to energy production (Nathwani et al., 1992). The framework employs indicators of social well being developed by the United Nations. Subsequent work by Nathwani and Pandey has lead to the refinement of the life-quality approach. We have made continuous improvement in reaching our goal of having a rational, workable and acceptable method for expressing the Public Interest in issues such as: nuclear energy; siting of chemical plants; safety of consumer products; and provision of health care.

Ineffective Risk Communication
Decision-Making Processes that Yield Unstable Solutions
Poor Integration of Science into Risk Policy
Effective Risk Communication

The Institute's 1989 book Prospects and Problems in Risk Communication edited by W. Leiss is in its second printing and remains the only Canadian text on this topic. The articles in this book cover a wide range of current issues in risk communication. These include: a comprehensive review of the obstacles that have been encountered in communicating risk management controversies in North America; analyses of the distinction between technical risk and perceived risk; reviews of communication case studies, controversies, and practices involving Canadian government departments; studies on the place of quantitative risk assessment results in effective risk communication practices; and recommendations for improving current policies and practices. The contributors are from various professions - the media, industry, government departments, consultants, and academic fields. Their treatment of these issues addresses the needs of other professionals in these areas as well as those of the public in general.

Consensus Approaches to Decision Making
Dr. William Leiss' 1992 report Multi-Stakeholder Negotiation in Environmental Controversies: The Case of Antisapstain Chemicals in the British Columbia Wood Products Industry, documents the background, process, outcome and implications of a new approach used to resolve an environmental controversy concerning antisapstain chemicals used to control the growth of mold on freshly-cut lumber in the wood products industry. This approach resulted in a consensus agreement among the major stakeholders (labour, industry, government, environmental groups) and provides an important case study of toxic chemical risk management in Canada.

Ensuring Value Assumptions in Risk Assessment are Explicit
In their 1991 publication "Value Assumptions in Risk Assessment", Drs. Haworth, Brunk, and Lee, explore the value aspects of risk assessment through a case study of the alachlor pesticide controversy. This book brings to light various problems public policymakers encounter as they grapple with recommendations from scientific advisors.

Eastern Arctic Eco-Research Project

The Institute has received a 3 year grant under the Canadian Tri-Council Eco-Research program for a project dealing with environmental contaminants in Northern Quebec and Labrador. The overall objectives of the research program are to document the effects of exposure to environmental contaminants in Nunavik and Labrador on human health, including impacts on the quality of life of the Inuit, and to develop a risk management framework in collaboration with Inuit groups. The Institute's study of the risk management aspects of the problem is one of nine sub-projects on health (animal and human), socio-economic impacts and risk management issues involving researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Manitoba, Waterloo, UQAR and Laval. The research program is under the direction of principal investigator Dr. Eric Dewailly of Laval and the Quebec Centre for Public Health.

The risk management research project involves: Dr. Eric Dewailly, Director, Quebec Centre for Public Health;
Dr. Robbie Keith, Environment and Resource Studies, UW; Dr. John Shortreed, Civil Engineering, UW; Lorraine Craig, IRR; and Chris Furgal, Urban Planning, UW

The purpose of the risk management research project is to enhance the decision-making capacity of regional and community organizations in Nunavik and Labrador to deal effectively with the many aspects of contaminants exposure, effects and impacts.

Phase I
Phase I of the project consisted of workshops held January 16 - 19, 1995 in Kuujjuaq, Quebec and Nain, Labrador in order to understand community and regional perspectives on contaminant issues and to involve Inuit groups and regional organizations in the planning and process of the Eco-Research sub-projects. A report on the workshops is available

Phase II
Phase II involves the development of specific project/site activities that evolve from the workshop discussions. The risk management research team will be working closely with the steering committees in Nunavik and Labrador to define and implement the research strategy.

Phase III
Phase III will conclude the research project with publication of a resource document which summarizes the results of the sub-projects in a plain language fact sheet format. The purpose of the document is to enhance the capacity of organizations, particularly those in Nunavik and Labrador, to communicate more effectively on food chain contaminant issues.

Phase I - Year 1 Progress Report - Research Undertaken to Date
The first risk management workshops were held in Kuujjuaq, Quebec January 16 -17, 1995 and Nain, Labrador January 18-19, which brought together the principal investigator and researchers from the nine Eco-research subprojects, the project steering committee, field co-ordinators and key members of the community from Nunavik and Labrador. The purpose of the workshops was to provide an opportunity for discussion on contaminants andgeneral environmental health concerns among Inuit representative, regional decision-makers and researchers and to introduce and discuss the Eco-research sub-projects. The workshops were the first activity of the risk management project which aims to enhance the capacity of communities in Nunavik and Labrador to manage the impacts of environmental contaminants on their health and lifestyles.

Results Obtained
A $10,000 contribution from Health Canada towards the workshop travel expenses allowed the workshop to be held in two locations, which was critical in view of the major differences between the regions of Nunavik and Labrador. In addition to co-funding the workshop, Health Canada also provided a representative, Dr. Frank Iverson, to attend the workshop in Kuujjuaq.

The workshop successfully provided a forum for active discussion, in which Northerners expressed their concerns, perspectives and needs in relation to local and regional environmental contaminant issues and made queries and comments concerning the Eco-research projects. Some of the new issues raised by the workshop participants included:
- need for background information on contaminants, including sources and effects on humans and wildlife
- need for information on the health of the caribou
- need for information on the benefits of eating country food and the risks of eating store bought food
- importance of culturally appropriate communication concerning the Eco-research project and the research results

The ideas expressed at the workshops will assist researchers in structuring their research activities, and planning implementation and communication strategies at the community and regional levels. In some cases, this has meant exploring the feasibility of extending the scope of the studies to include communities in Labrador as well as Nunavik (i.e. Duhaime study, Pellerin-Massicotte study).

The workshops also provided an opportunity for discussion among researchers, to explore ways to integrate the various subprojects and improve access to one another's data.

A draft report on the proceedings of the Risk Management workshops has been distributed to all in attendance at the workshops. Field co-ordinators have been requested to communicate the information in the document to non-English speaking participants. The draft report will be amended based on comments received from the workshop participants.

An additional $5,000.00 has been requested from Health Canada for publication, promotion, and distribution of the final workshop report, Inuit Perspectives on Environmental Contaminants. The report will provide an important example of the application of the risk management approach to community-based studies on contaminants and will be a resource document for researchers planning studies on contaminants in the North. The final report will be prefaced with a summary of the workshop translated into Inuktitut.

Current Activities
The risk management team is currently developing a proposal for co-funding of specific community-based initiatives for years 2 and 3 of the project. The research objectives have been organized according to the following three themes:

Theme 1: Contaminants in the ECA: Developing an Adaptive Risk Management Strategy
to document the characteristics of Nunavik and Labrador that require adaptations to components of the traditional risk management approach
to integrate Inuit perspectives on ecosystem contaminants by adapting the risk management study framework
to assist in the development of a culturally appropriate information network on contaminants issues to meet the needs of residents and organizations in these regions
Theme 2: Measures and Indicators of Community Empowerment
to identify indicators to measure the effectiveness of the risk management process in Nunavik and Labrador
Theme 3: Evaluation of the Risk Management process in Nunavik and Labrador
To evaluate the risk management process in terms of its ability to :
- link researchers, Inuit groups and regional decisionmakers;
- enhance the capacity of the Inuit to understand and manage the risks of contaminants in the food chain;
- incorporate the needs, issues and concerns of the Inuit into the Eco- research project;
- integrate the results of the sub-projects in a way which is useful for decisionmakers.

The risk management team is currently preparing a paper on Empowering Communities through Risk Management for submission to the journal Arctic. The paper will document the application of the risk management process to the study of contaminants in the North.

Training opportunities offered
The project provided training support for Chris Furgal, a graduate student in the School of Urban Planning at the University of Waterloo. Chris has a M.Sc. degree in Biology and began a Ph.D. program in January. He studied Decision Making Capacity in Northern Communities as his thesis topic under the supervision of Dr. Robbie Keith of the Department of Environment and Resource Studies.

Phase II - Year 1 Progress Report - Research to Date and Results
This project is the integrative component of the Avativut/Ilusivut (Eco-Research) Program. The project seeks to strengthen linkages between Inuit communities, local and regional decision-makers, Inuit groups and researchers. The primary objective of this research project is to enhance the decision-making capacity of individuals, community and regional organizations in Nunavik and Labrador to deal effectively with the issue of contaminants in country food. The project seeks to accomplish this through the following activities:

Implementation and adaptation of the risk management framework to link both Inuit and scientific perspectives and decision-making processes on ecosystem contaminants.
Development of a risk communication document to assist decision-makers n the regions of Nunavik and Labrador. The document will integrate the results of the Avativut/Ilusivut research program with other scientific and indigenous information.

Activities to Date and Results
Briefly, in review, the Year 1 Risk Management Workshops held in Kuujjuaq, Québec and Nain, Labrador in January 1995 brought together Eco-researchers, local and regional decision-makers and Inuit residents of Nain and Labrador. The workshop discussions resulted in the identification of deficiencies in the scope and conceptualization of the research program. These identified limitations, namely the absence of a study to provide information on caribou health and the narrow focus of the program towards risks of country food diets without consideration of benefits, resulted in a subsequent adaptation of the research program. A caribou health study has been initiated with funding from Hydro Québec and studies assessing Inuit perceptions of the risks of country food diets have been broadened to determine cultural, social, economic and health benefits. This shift in contaminants risk management and communications towards a balancing of benefits and risks reflects recent findings from other country food contaminants research initiatives. A recent report by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, entitled "Communicating about Contaminants in Country Food: The Experience in Aboriginal Communities" (Usher, 1995) identifies the need for health authorities to assess the benefits of country food and weigh these against the health risks of exposure to contaminants when developing health advisories. Recommendations from contaminant workshops organized by the Department of Health and Social Services in the Northwest Territories have included the need to discuss both health risks and benefits in contaminant communications. The final report of the Risk Management workshops was published with financial assistance from Health Canada and distributed to workshop participants, following a process of review and revision by those in attendance in Nunavik and Labrador.

Year 2 project activities focused on further assessing Inuit needs and perceptions on contaminant issues through interviews and observations conducted by Chris Furgal during the introduction of the Eco-Research program in the community of Kangiqsujuaq in July 1995. Interviews were also conducted with Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS) and Makivik Corporation to obtain feedback on the Eco-Research risk management workshops. Meetings were held with the Regional co-ordinators in Nunavik and Labrador (Lucy Grey and Katie Harris) to assess community needs, provide consultation on approaches for introducing the Eco-Research program in the communities, and obtain feedback on the Risk Management workshops. The common theme arising from the discussions was the need for improved collaboration between researchers and communities during the course of research studies and better communication of results following the completion of studies. Robbie Keith participated in a "Workshop on Social Health and Environmental Change" held in Nain in March 1996. Chris Furgal has strengthened collaborative links with researchers undertaking contaminants risk management activities in other regions of the Canadian North. He attended the Nunavut Contaminants Workshop in Cambridge Bay, NWT in March, 1996. The Workshop indicated that Inuit of Nunavut have a need for very basic level information on contaminants.

A proposal to leverage Eco-Research project funding for the risk management project was submitted to NHRDP in November 1995. The proposal was to conduct mid-project risk management workshops and implement and evaluate risk communication activities. While three of four reviewers were supportive of the proposed initiatives, the proposal was not funded.

Phase III
Phase III of the project also focused on developing the risk communication document entitled "Country Foods Benefits and Risks: A Resource Guide for Nunavik and Labrador". This document will assist decision-makers at the regional, community and individual levels by establishing a framework and a system for organizing the information resulting from the many studies on contaminants risks and benefits. This would include results of the Eco-Research studies and information from other indigenous and scientific sources. A survey of Eco-Researchers was undertaken in July, 1995 to begin the process of identifying existing research related to the Eco-Research program.

The final organizational structure and content of the document was determined by Inuit partners in the regions of Nunavik and Labrador to ensure its success and relevance to community needs.

Usher, P. J., Baikie, M., Demmer, M., Nakashima, D., Stevenson, M.G. and M. Stiles. 1995. Communicating about Contaminants in Country Food: The Experience in Aboriginal Communities. Ottawa: Inuit Tapirisat of Canada.

Furgal, C., Shortreed, J., Keith, R., Craig, L. and É. Dewailly. 1995. Inuit Perspectives on Environmental Contaminants. Institute for Risk Research, University of Waterloo.


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Last Updated: January 13, 2009
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