Assessing the relevance of ecotoxicological studies for regulatory decision making

Christina Rudén*, Julie Adams, Marlene Ågerstrand, Theo C.M. Brock, Veronique Poulsen, Christian E. Schlekat, James R. Wheeler, Tala R. Henry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Regulatory policies in many parts of the world recognize either the utility of or the mandate that all available studies be considered in environmental or ecological hazard and risk assessment (ERA) of chemicals, including studies from the peer-reviewed literature. Consequently, a vast array of different studies and data types need to be considered. The first steps in the evaluation process involve determining whether the study is relevant to the ERA and sufficiently reliable. Relevance evaluation is typically performed using existing guidance but involves application of "expert judgment" by risk assessors. In the present paper, we review published guidance for relevance evaluation and, on the basis of the practical experience within the group of authors, we identify additional aspects and further develop already proposed aspects that should be considered when conducting a relevance assessment for ecotoxicological studies. From a regulatory point of view, the overarching key aspect of relevance concerns the ability to directly or indirectly use the study in ERA with the purpose of addressing specific protection goals and ultimately regulatory decision making. Because ERA schemes are based on the appropriate linking of exposure and effect estimates, important features of ecotoxicological studies relate to exposure relevance and biological relevance. Exposure relevance addresses the representativeness of the test substance, environmental exposure media, and exposure regime. Biological relevance deals with the environmental significance of the test organism and the endpoints selected, the ecological realism of the test conditions simulated in the study, as well as a mechanistic link of treatment-related effects for endpoints to the protection goal identified in the ERA. In addition, uncertainties associated with relevance should be considered in the assessment. A systematic and transparent assessment of relevance is needed for regulatory decision making. The relevance aspects also need to be considered by scientists when designing, performing, and reporting ecotoxicological studies to facilitate their use in ERA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)652-663
JournalIntegrated Environmental Assessment and Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Data evaluation
  • Environmental risk assessment
  • Peer-reviewed literature
  • Regulatory decision making
  • Relevance evaluation

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