Thesaurus of terms used in MRA, microbiological risk assessment

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water has developed this Thesaurus of Microbiological Risk Assessment (MRA) Terms because it is important for risk assessors, managers, and communicators to have available and to use common, understandable terms and definitions for the various facets of the MRA process. This Thesaurus is a collection of definitions of terms that may be relevant for microbial risk assessment (MRA). It should help risk assessors, managers, and communicators become aware of various definitions so that they can better communicate with each other and avoid misunderstandings. It should also help increase transparency and contribute to a common understanding of the MRA process and presentation of MRA results.

Currently, various program offices within EPA, as well as other Federal Agencies (e.g., Food and Drug Administration [FDA] and United States Department of Agriculture [USDA]) and International Agencies (e.g., World Health Organization [WHO] and Food and Agricultural Organization [FAO]), utilize terms often unique to the activities or MRA applications for that specific agency. Different Agencies may also have different operating definitions for the same term.

This Thesaurus seeks to identify the terms that have the most potential to cause confusion due to varying uses for terms.

1.1 Background and Scope
Risk assessment is an important tool used by a variety of disciplines or fields of study. Because the different fields of risk assessment use their own methods and terms and also borrow from other scientific disciplines, much of the nomenclature is broadly used, but narrowly defined within a field. In addition, similar concepts may go by different names in different fields. For example, in ecological risk assessment a stressor interacts with a receptor, whereas in chemical risk assessment for human health scenarios, toxicants (or toxins) interact with humans through various  exposure routes. In MRA, hazards interact with hosts either through “primary” and “secondary” exposures. Pointing out these differences is not meant to suggest that these differences are inappropriate, but to help designers and users of risk assessment understand that these differences exist so that as the science of risk assessment evolves, it is less likely that any given term is adopted for multiple uses.

The major fields of risk assessment that contributed terms and definitions to this Thesaurus include:
• air toxics risk assessment (risks to humans from inhaled toxins)
• carcinogen risk assessment (risks to humans from mainly chemical carcinogens)
• ecological risk assessment (risks to wildlife and ecosystems)
• environmental risk assessment (risks to the environment)
• food safety risk assessment (risks to humans from consumption of food)
• microbial risk assessment (risks to humans from microbial pathogens)
• nuclear radiation risk assessment (risks to humans from radiation exposure)
• water safety risk assessment (risks to humans from drinking water, recreation, or other water

1. Introduction
Because risk assessment is multi-disciplinary, terms and definitions from contributing disciplines are often adopted. Term preference is often determined by the risk assessor’s educational background and areas of expertise. Disciplines that contribute to risk assessment terminology include, but are not limited to: biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, epidemiology, law, mathematics/statistics, medicine (clinical), microbiology, pharmacology, philosophy, policy, toxicology and veterinary sciences. In addition, terms may be favored or disfavored by different government agencies. In many cases the terminology adopted by an agency comes from the legislations that enable that agency’s regulatory authorities. Risk assessors, managers, or communicators that are isolated in one agency’s working culture may not be familiar with how risk assessment terms are used in other agencies.

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