EDITOR'S NOTE: This is 1 of 4 papers from the US Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board's Ecological Processes and Effects Committee workshop on the current and future practice of ecological risk assessment. The workshop was held in Washington, DC in February 2006.
Risk assessment originated with the insurance industry and spread to the estimation of risks to people and property in other contexts, including the regulation of environmental contamination. Ecological assessment became an important component of environmental management in the United States with the legal mandate for environmental impact assessment in 1970. Risk assessment and ecological assessment merged in the 1980s to form ecological risk assessment (ERA). Since then, ERA has been institutionalized with the development of the US Environmental Protection Agency's (hereafter, USEPA or Agency) framework and guidance documents. Ecological risk assessment has been adapted by the Agency's program offices to fit their legal and policy contexts. The future of ERA will inevitably include the incorporation of more complex and demanding methods. However, the biggest challenge for future risk assessors will be to make ecological risks more compelling to decision makers.