Commentary Advance Publication
Evaluating Uncertainty to Strengthen Epidemiologic Data for Use in Human Health Risk Assessments
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Citation: Burns CJ, Wright JM, Pierson JB, Bateson TF, Burstyn I, Goldstein DA, Klaunig JE, Luben TJ, Mihlan G, Ritter L, Schnatter AR, Symons JM, Yi KD. Evaluating Uncertainty to Strengthen Epidemiologic Data for Use in Human Health Risk Assessments. Environ Health Perspect; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1308062.
Received: 24 December 2013
Accepted: 29 July 2014
Advance Publication: 31 July 2014
PDF Version (278 KB)
Background: There is a recognized need to improve the application of epidemiologic data in human health risk assessment especially for understanding and characterizing risks from environmental and occupational exposures. While there is uncertainty associated with the results of most epidemiologic studies, techniques exist to characterize uncertainty that can be applied to improve weight-of-evidence evaluations and risk characterization efforts.
Methods: This report derives from a Health and Environmental Sciences Institute (HESI) workshop held in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, to discuss the utility of using epidemiologic data in risk assessments, including the use of advanced analytical methods to address sources of uncertainty. Epidemiologists, toxicologists, and risk assessors from academia, government and industry convened to discuss uncertainty, exposure assessment, and application of analytical methods to address these challenges.
Synthesis: Several recommendations emerged to help improve the utility of epidemiologic data in risk assessment. For example, improved characterization of uncertainty is needed to allow risk assessors to quantitatively assess potential sources of bias. Data are needed to facilitate this quantitative analysis, and interdisciplinary approaches will help ensure sufficient information is collected for a thorough uncertainty evaluation. Advanced analytical methods and tools such as directed-acyclic graphs (DAGs) and Bayesian statistical techniques, can provide important insights and support interpretation of epidemiologic analysis.
Conclusions: The discussions and recommendations from this workshop demonstrate that there are practical steps that the scientific community can adopt to strengthen epidemiologic data for decision making.
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