A divide and conquer approach to cope with uncertainty, human health risk, and decision making in contaminant hydrology

Pereira, Felipe, Bolster, Diogo, Sánchez-Vila, Xavier, Nowak, Wolfgang
Assessing health risk in hydrological systems is an interdisciplinary field. It relies on the expertise in the fields of hydrology and public health and needs powerful translation concepts to provide decision support and policy making. Reliable health risk estimates need to account for the uncertainties and variabilities present in hydrological, physiological, and human behavioral parameters. Despite significant theoretical advancements in stochastic hydrology, there is still a dire need to further propagate these concepts to practical problems and to society in general. Following a recent line of work, we use fault trees to address the task of probabilistic risk analysis and to support related decision and management problems. Fault trees allow us to decompose the assessment of health risk into individual manageable modules, thus tackling a complex system by a structural divide and conquer approach. The complexity within each module can be chosen individually according to data availability, parsimony, relative importance, and stage of analysis. Three differences are highlighted in this paper when compared to previous works: (1) The fault tree proposed here accounts for the uncertainty in both hydrological and health components, (2) system failure within the fault tree is defined in terms of risk being above a threshold value, whereas previous studies that used fault trees used auxiliary events such as exceedance of critical concentration levels, and (3) we introduce a new form of stochastic fault tree that allows us to weaken the assumption of independent subsystems that is required by a classical fault tree approach. We illustrate our concept in a simple groundwater‐related setting
Repository: Scipedia Open Access