, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 543-556,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 May 2008

A Framework for Fully Integrating Environmental Assessment


A new framework for environmental assessment is needed because no existing framework explicitly includes all types of environmental assessments. We propose a framework that focuses on resolving environmental problems by integrating different types of assessments. Four general types of assessments are included: (1) condition assessments to detect chemical, physical, and biological impairments; (2) causal pathway assessments to determine causes and identify their sources; (3) predictive assessments to estimate environmental, economic, and societal risks, and benefits associated with different possible management actions; and (4) outcome assessments to evaluate the results of the decisions of an integrative assessment. The four types of assessments can be neatly arrayed in a two-by-two matrix based on the direction of analysis of causal relationships (rows) and whether the assessment identifies problems or solves them (columns). We suggest that all assessments have a common structure of planning, analysis, and synthesis, thus simplifying terminology and facilitating communication between types of assessments and environmental programs. The linkage between assessments is based on intermediate decisions that initiate another assessment or a final decision signaling the resolution of the problem. The framework is applied to three cases: management of a biologically impaired river, remediation of a contaminated site, and reregistration of a pesticide. We believe that this framework clarifies the relationships among the various types of assessment processes and their links to specific decisions.