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Risk Assessment

Step 3 - Exposure Assessment

Step 3 - Exposure Assessment: To calculate a numerical estimate of exposure or dose.

This is a diagram of 4 -step Human Health Risk Assessment Process, highlighting the Exposure Assessment (step 3) which is to calculate a numerical estimate of exposure or dose.

EPA defines exposure as 'contact between an agent and the visible exterior of a person (e.g. skin and openings into the body)'. Exposure assessment is the process of measuring or estimating the magnitude, frequency, and duration of human exposure to an agent in the environment, or estimating future exposures for an agent that has not yet been released. An exposure assessment includes some discussion of the size, nature, and types of human populations exposed to the agent, as well as discussion of the uncertainties in the above information. Exposure can be measured directly, but more commonly is estimated indirectly through consideration of measured concentrations in the environment, consideration of models of chemical transport and fate in the environment, and estimates of human intake over time.

Different Kinds of Doses. Exposure assessment considers both the exposure pathway (the course an agent takes from its source to the person(s) being contacted) as well as the exposure route (means of entry of the agent into the body). The exposure route is generally further described as intake (taken in through a body opening, e.g. as eating, drinking, or inhaling) or uptake (absorption through tissues, e.g. through the skin or eye). The applied dose is the amount of agent at the absorption barrier that is available for absorption. The potential dose is the amount of agent that is ingested, inhaled, or applied to the skin. The applied dose may be less than the potential dose if the agent is only partly bioavailable. The internal dose or absorbed dose is the amount of an agent that has been absorbed and is available for interaction with biologically significant receptors within the human body. Finally, the delivered dose is the amount of agent available for interaction with any specific organ or cell.

People ExposedRange of Exposure. For any specific agent or site, there is a range of exposures actually experienced by individuals. Some individuals may have a high degree of contact for an extended period (e.g. factory workers exposed to an agent on the job). Other individuals may have a lower degree of contact for a shorter period (e.g. individuals using a recreational site downwind of the factory). EPA policy for exposure assessment requires consideration of a range of possible exposure levels. Two common scenarios for possible exposure are "Central Tendency" and "High End". "Central Tendency" exposure is an estimate of the average experienced by the affected population, based on the amount of agent present in the environment and the frequency and duration of exposure. "High End" exposure is the highest dose estimated to be experienced by some individuals, commonly stated as approximately equal to the 90th percentile exposure category for individuals.

Quantifying Exposure. There are three basic approaches for quantifying exposure. Each approach is based on different data, and has different strengths and weaknesses; using the approaches in combination can greatly strengthen the credibility of an exposure risk assessment.

  • Point of Contact Measurement - The exposure can be measured at the point of contact (the outer boundary of the body) while it is taking place, measuring both exposure concentration and time of contact, then integrating them;

  • Scenario Evaluation - The exposure can be estimated by separately evaluating the exposure concentration and the time of contact, then combining this information;

  • Reconstruction - the exposure can be estimated from dose, which in turn can be reconstructed through internal indicators (biomarkers, body burden, excretion levels, etc) after the exposure has taken place (reconstruction).

For more information on exposure assessment methods, see the "Guidelines for Exposure Assessment", May 1992.

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