Partitioned multiobjective risk modeling of carcinogenic compounds in groundwater

Lawrence D. Lemke, Andrew S. Bahrou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Quantifying human cancer risk arising from exposure to contaminated groundwater is complicated by the many hydrogeological, environmental, and toxicological uncertainties involved. In this study, we used Monte Carlo simulation to estimate cancer risk associated with tetrachloroethene (PCE) dissolved in groundwater by linking three separate models for: (1) reactive contaminant transport; (2) human exposure pathways; and (3) the PCE cancer potency factor. The hydrogeologic model incorporates an analytical solution for a one-dimensional advective-dispersive-reactive transport equation to determine the PCE concentration in a water supply well located at a fixed distance from a continuous source. The pathway model incorporates PCE exposure through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact. The toxicological model combines epidemiological data from eight rodent bioassays of PCE exposure in the form of a composite cumulative distribution frequency curve for the human PCE cancer potency factor. We assessed the relative importance of individual model variables through their correlation with expected cancer risk calculated in an ensemble of Monte Carlo simulations with 20,000 trials. For the scenarios evaluated, three factors were most highly correlated with cancer risk: (1) the microbiological decay constant for PCE in groundwater, (2) the linear groundwater pore velocity, and (3) the cancer potency factor. We then extended our analysis beyond conventional expected value risk assessment using the partitioned multiobjective risk method (PMRM) to generate expected-value functions conditional to a 1 in 100,000 increased cancer risk threshold. This approach accounts for low probability/high impact outcomes separately from the conventional unconditional expected values. Thus, information on potential worst-case outcomes can be quantified for decision makers. Using PMRM, we evaluated the cost-benefit relationship of implementing several postulated risk management alternatives intended to mitigate the expected and conditional cancer risk. Our results emphasize the importance of hydrogeologic models in risk assessment, but also illustrate the importance of integrating environmental and toxicological uncertainty. When coupled with the PMRM, models integrating uncertainty in transport, exposure, and potency constitute an effective risk assessment tool for use within a risk-based corrective action (RBCA) framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-39
Number of pages13
JournalStochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Contamination
  • Groundwater
  • Risk-based corrective action
  • Stochastic analysis
  • Uncertainty


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