Structured expert judgement approach of the health impact of various chemicals and classes of chemicals

Deniz Marti, David Hanrahan, Ernesto Sanchez-Triana, Mona Wells, Lilian Corra, Howard Hu, Patrick N. Breysse, Amalia Laborde, Jack Caravanos, Roberto Bertollini, Kate Porterfield, Richard Fuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Chemical contamination and pollution are an ongoing threat to human health and the environment. The concern over the consequences of chemical exposures at the global level continues to grow. Because resources are constrained, there is a need to prioritize interventions focused on the greatest health impact. Data, especially related to chemical exposures, are rarely available for most substances of concern, and alternate methods to evaluate their impact are needed. Structured expert judgment (SEJ) process A Structured Expert Judgment (Research Outreach, 2021) process was performed to provide plausible estimates of health impacts for 16 commonly found pollutants: asbestos, arsenic, benzene, chromium, cadmium, dioxins, fluoride, highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), lead, mercury, polycyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAs), phthalates, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and brominated flame retardants (BRFs). This process, undertaken by sector experts, weighed individual estimations of the probable global health scale health impacts of each pollutant using objective estimates of the expert opinions' statistical accuracy and informativeness. Main findings The foremost substances, in terms of mean projected annual total deaths, were lead, asbestos, arsenic, and HHPs. Lead surpasses the others by a large margin, with an estimated median value of 1.7 million deaths annually. The three other substances averaged between 136,000 and 274,000 deaths per year. Of the 12 other chemicals evaluated, none reached an estimated annual death count exceeding 100,000. These findings underscore the importance of prioritizing available resources on reducing and remediating the impacts of these key pollutants. Range of health impacts Based on the evidence available, experts concluded some of the more notorious chemical pollutants, such as PCBs and dioxin, do not result in high levels of human health impact from a global scale perspective. However, the chemical toxicity of some compounds released in recent decades, such as Endocrine Disrupters and PFAs, cannot be ignored, even if current impacts are limited. Moreover, the impact of some chemicals may be disproportionately large in some geographic areas. Continued research and monitoring are essential; and a preventative approach is needed for chemicals. Future directions These results, and potential similar analyses of other chemicals, are provided as inputs to ongoing discussions about priority setting for global chemicals and pollution management. Furthermore, we suggest that this SEJ process be repeated periodically as new information becomes available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0298504
JournalPloS one
Issue number6 June
StatePublished - Jun 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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