Nature protection and the introduction into the environment of micro-organisms

Given the potential risks associated with the release of micro-organisms into the environment, many countries have developed strategies and protocols for risk assessment. The approaches taken generally use the paradigm that risk is proportional to the product of hazard and exposure:

Risk a Hazard x Exposure

For example, the Canadian EPA has established guidelines for risk assessment and a safety mechanism (Figure 8.4).

Figure 8.4. Canadian draft guidelines for risk assessment for the release of micro-organisms into the environment

Source: Department of Health and Ageing and enHealth Council (2002), “Environmental health risk assessment: Guidelines for assessing human health risks from environmental hazards”, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra,

In terms of hazard assessment, this involves characterisation of the micro-organism and identifies the potential adverse effects on the environment and/or human health and predicts the extent and duration of these effects. This characterisation involves:

• taxonomic identification, for risk assessment purposes (OECD, 2003)

  • • assessment of strain history in terms of any known pathogenicity
  • • record of any genetic modifications related to the proposed strain
  • • the potential of the organism in terms of its potential for horizontal gene transfer
  • • consideration of the biological and ecological properties of the organism
  • • examination of any information relating to previous release.

As a result of the hazard assessment and together with the other assessments listed in Figure 8.3, the application is categorised into one of three risk estimates (Slovic, 1987; 1997):

  • • High risk: a determination of high risk implies that severe, enduring or widespread adverse effects are probable for exposure scenarios predicted from known, foreseeable or intended uses; control measures or risk management would be recommended.
  • • Medium risk: a determination of medium risk implies that adverse effects predicted for probable exposure scenarios may be moderate and self-resolving. In this case, use may be recommended with monitoring.
  • • Low risk: a determination of low risk implies that any adverse effects predicted for probable exposure scenarios are rare, or mild and self-resolving.
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