Chair Professor Hsin-Su Yu, National Taiwan University
Distinguished Investigator Chi-Pang Wen, Institute of Population Health Sciences, National Health Research Institutes
The public is increasingly concerned about how their health can be impacted by environmental hazards such as air pollution, nuclear power plants or chemicals outside the petrochemical plants in everyday life. Understanding the nature of risks, how people perceive threats to their health, and how risk information is communicated and understood is imperative to ensuring the proper management of environmental health risks, and to maintaining a sustained economic development from decisions made by the government allowing major industrial investment This increased awareness has repercussions for governments beyond EPA(environmental protection agency), as the public, medical professionals and Department of Health, private investors and Department of Economics, research agenda in academic institutions, residents living near the industrial complex, environmental advocates, and private companies, all of which have a stake in maintaining a balance between public health and economic development.
While EPA has been solely responsible for regulating and enforcing environmental standards related to health, the public, the health governments and the medical professionals in Taiwan as a whole are not completely familiar with the rationale behind health-related standards set up by EPA. These health experts have difficulty interpreting the risk analysis processes made out of environmental impact assessment and in communicating the environmental risks to the public. EPA in Taiwan, ever since its inception in 1980s, has followed the footsteps of US EPA in its policy and regulatory formation. However, Taiwan EPA occasionally deviated from the US counterpart, and developed environmental standards aiming high and purported to be world’s best. For example, acceptable environmental health risk is set at one per million or 10-6, a risk level considered to be negligible or de minimus in legal term. Any level of risk to be socially acceptable has to be communicated, not only in common language understood by the public, but also in the context of perceived or tangible benefits in each event in the trade-off between risk and benefits. The size of environmental risk, an added risk, versus one’s background or current lifetime risk, an unavoidable risk, should be presented and reminded in the process of health risk assessment. So far, emphasis by Taiwan EPA has been made more on health risk assessment and health risk management, and less on the science and the art of health communication. Poor health risk communication could lead to economic standstill or even disaster.
This NHRI Forum project is to bridge the existing gap of knowledge within risk analysis and facilitate environmental health risk communication. The risk analysis includes risk assessment, risk management and risk communication, based on the old Red Book, “Risk Assessment in the Federal Government” and the newer version “Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment”. Risk analysis is a useful framework for managing health risks.