Introduction to Health Risk Analysis
This chapter, which is an update of Cox (2007), introduces methods of quantitative risk assessment (QRA) for public health risks. As noted in the Preface, public health risk analysis often falls in the intersection of politics, business, law, economics, and science and technology, as stakeholders with different interests seek to use QRA for their own ends. Public health risk analysis deals with decisions about which potential risk management interventions (usually including the status quo or “do-nothing” option) should be implemented to maintain or increase the safety of complex social, economic, and technological systems, such as the food supply network or industrial emissions control systems. The best course of action is often hotly disputed. For example, should emissions of gases or particles from a facility be further restricted even if permitting the current levels has unquestioned benefits in industry or agriculture? Should cell phone use in cars be banned? (“Public health” is often extended to include such issues of public safety.) Should cattle be imported from countries that have low levels of diseases such as BSE? Should antibiotics used in human medicine be prohibited from uses in food animals, even if doing so will lead to more sick animals (and perhaps more sick people), in order to preserve the effectiveness of the antibiotics in treating human patients? QRA seeks to inform policy-making deliberation and debate in such controversial cases by clarifying the probable consequences of alternative decisions.