Cancer risk assessment for arsenic exposure through oyster consumption

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Abstract

Risk is assessed on the basis of assumptions, but this practice might not be well received by the general public. To avoid miscommunication, the assumptions should be stated clearly in reporting the results. Recently, a report on an assessment of the cancer risk associated with consumption of oysters caused a panic among consumers in Taiwan and produced significant effects on related industries. A group of researchers measured the arsenic content in oysters in the Taiwan area and conducted a cancer risk assessment accordingly. The results, published in a research article in an international journal, included a lifetime cancer risk estimate of 5.10/10-4 as calculated based on the assumption that a person consumes oysters with the highest arsenic level (19.3 mg/g dry weight) at the highest rate (139 g/day) for 30 years. A national newspaper in Taiwan translated part of the article and published results that focused on the finding that this estimate was more than 500 times higher than what would be considered accepatable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, most consumers stopped purchasing oysters, and the related industries suffered substantial losses. The newspaper's omission of the key assumptions in the risk assessment and the extreme assumptions made in the risk assessment led to this tragedy. This event demonstrated the importance of careful communication of risk assessment results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-124
Number of pages2
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Volume110
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2002 Jan 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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