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Water: Microbial

Thesaurus of Terms Used in Microbial Risk Assessment - Chapter Two: Issues in Risk Assessment Terminology

Several issues regarding risk assessment terminology were identified during the development of this Thesaurus.  Many terms have multiple definitions, some almost identical and some significantly different.  Comparison of these definitions reveals that discrepancies between the meaning or usage of these terms often have historical roots, a result of the timing of or order in which risk assessment fields developed. 

Several terms and roots of terms are used within the microbial risk assessment community in different contexts.  This can potentially cause unnecessary confusion.  A comprehensive harmonization of terms would be valuable to the microbial risk assessment (MRA) community.  Similar activities are ongoing, such as the joint work of the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) project on Harmonisation of Hazard/Risk Assessment Terminology (IPCS/OECD 2004), and the work of the IPCS Exposure Terminology Subcommittee (IPCS 2001).  Terms from other risk assessment disciplines (environmental, epidemiological, chemical) should be adopted where appropriate and useful, although water and food are the major media for which MRA is currently being used.  Harmonization between food and water MRA terms is also desirable.

Terms that often cause the most confusion are those that are used commonly in every language (in the vernacular), but within risk assessment have a more specific definition (e.g., transparency).  In particular, multi-word  terms may have highly developed definitions for risk assessment applications which are not necessarily implied by the assumed vernacular definition of each word in the term (e.g., data quality). 

Terms that usually cause the least amount of confusion are those that are easily identified as technical or regulatory terms (e.g., benchmark dose) or are defined in a context-specific manner in published statutory or regulatory language (e.g., reference dose)—although the latter are generally not included in this Thesaurus, as discussed in Chapter 1.

There are some words that are used in combination with other words to create unique multiword terms.  Some of the most obvious examples include: analysis, assessment, characterization, dose, effect, exposure, hazard, and risk.  Examination of the definitions of the terms in this Thesaurus suggests that the most significant confusion occurs from overlap in terms used to describe the risk assessment process in various risk assessment frameworks.

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Summary of Findings

Development of this thesaurus suggests:

  • A harmonization of terms, especially between food and water terms, would be valuable to the microbial risk assessment community.
  • The risk assessment community should use existing terminology rather than invent new terms or new meanings for existing terms. 

Factors that lead to confusion:

  • Words used commonly in every language (in the vernacular) may have a specific definition within risk assessment.
  • Multi-word terms may have definitions not obvious from the vernacular definition of the individual words.
  • Overlap in terms used to describe the risk assessment process in various risk assessment frameworks.

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