An introductory guide to uncertainty analysis in environmental and health risk assessment. Environmental Restoration Program
Description: This report presents guidelines for evaluating uncertainty in mathematical equations and computer models applied to assess human health and environmental risk. Uncertainty analyses involve the propagation of uncertainty in model parameters and model structure to obtain confidence statements for the estimate of risk and identify the model components of dominant importance. Uncertainty analyses are required when there is no a priori knowledge about uncertainty in the risk estimate and when there is a chance that the failure to assess uncertainty may affect the selection of wrong options for risk reduction. Uncertainty analyses are effective when they are conducted in an iterative mode. When the uncertainty in the risk estimate is intolerable for decision-making, additional data are acquired for the dominant model components that contribute most to uncertainty. This process is repeated until the level of residual uncertainty can be tolerated. A analytical and numerical methods for error propagation are presented along with methods for identifying the most important contributors to uncertainty. Monte Carlo simulation with either Simple Random Sampling (SRS) or Latin Hypercube Sampling (LHS) is proposed as the most robust method for propagating uncertainty through either simple or complex models. A distinction is made between simulating a stochastically varying assessment endpoint (i.e., the distribution of individual risks in an exposed population) and quantifying uncertainty due to lack of knowledge about a fixed but unknown quantity (e.g., a specific individual, the maximally exposed individual, or the mean, median, or 95%-tile of the distribution of exposed individuals). Emphasis is placed on the need for subjective judgement to quantify uncertainty when relevant data are absent or incomplete.
Date: December 1, 1994
Creator: Hammonds, J. S.; Hoffman, F. O. & Bartell, S. M.
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