2015 SRA Annual Meeting in Arlington, VA, USA: “Empires of Risk Analysis: Science, Policy and Innovation”

In December 6-10, 2015, SRA members and risk enthusiasts gathered at the 35th annual SRA meeting. The topics of this meeting included: a look at the past, a taste of the future and appreciation for what we have.

The future of Risk Analysis presented itself first thing on Monday morning in the youthful and eager faces of the new member, student and young professionals, and SRA Fellows’ breakfast. Veterans and first timers discussed research topics and upcoming meeting highlights while sipping the day’s first much needed taste of caffeine. Meanwhile a variety of other groups caught up on the year’s progress, including the publications and conferences, finance and workshop committees.

Our first plenary on “Risk Analysis, Enterprise Innovation and the Corporate Scientist” featured a group of early-career scientists working in disciplines that are at the forefront of headline-making debates. Marine biologist Nicky Cariglia kick-started the meeting with how risk tactics have led to a dramatic drop in instances of ocean freighter spills; from 24.5 average spills per year in the 1970s, to a current average of 1.8 per year. As a member of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) team, Ms. Cariglia and her colleagues advise 99% of freight fleets on effective response tactics in the wake of a spill of hazardous materials. Established after the Torrey Canyon spill, the ITOPF deploys tailored non-destructive cleanup techniques with a focus on a net environmental approach. Ms. Cariglia concluded her talk with great advice for aspiring assessment scientists: Listen and learn from the locals, learn from your peers, and always admit when you don’t know the solution.

Our next plenary speaker hailed from the research lab of West Virginia University. Dr. Arvind Thiruvengadam recently made headlines following his discovery of a breech in emissions in Volkswagen diesel engines. Uncovering the voluntary “defeat device”, a scandal that not only resulted in major diesel model recalls but the resignation of the VW CEO, Dr. Thiruvengadam cautioned scientists of media amplification by stressing the importance of sticking to the facts.

Former US Food and Drug Administration Branch Chief turned entrepreneur Sonna Patel-Raman rounded off the discussion with her experience in the bureaucracy of medical-device regulation. Dr. Patel-Raman spoke of the hurdles new technologies face and the unintentional adverse consequences of risk mitigation. It is unfortunate, she argued, that regulation is now guiding our behavior in technology advances; that the objective is “will the FDA approve” and not “is this drug effective”. The bar is set too high for approval; risk mitigation needs to be balanced with innovation.

Parallel sessions and specialty group meetings followed and the day was crowned by the Poster Reception. As usual hundreds of submissions were presented and discussed over food and drink. The reception was judged by two separate panels, resulting in two separate sets of awards; a panel of appointed judges and a digital vote cast by members. Read about first place judges choice winner Pete Vanden Bosch as well as Jinhyok Heo, the only participant to win an award from both panels here.

Congratulations to the following poster winners:

Judges Choice

  • 1st Pete Vanden Bosch “The Goldilocks fallacy”
  • 2nd Kristen Spicer “Poker, beer, and zombies: The application of adult learning theory to teach risk management to undergrads.”
  • 3rd Jinhyok Heo, PJ Adams, HO Gao “Quantifying the contribution of individual emissions sources to PM2.5 social costs for designing cost-effective control strategies.”
  • 3rd Diane Henshel, Marina Cains, B Hoffman “Framing risk assessment of complex systems”
  • 3rd Matthew Bates, JM Keistler, NP Zussblatt, KJ Plourde, BA Wender, Igor Linkov “Balancing research and funding using value of information and portfolio tools for nanomaterial risk classification.”

Members Choice

  • 1st Abhinav Mishra, AK Pradhan “Development of pre-harvest system model to understand the ecology of E. coli O157:H7 in leafy greens production”
  • 2nd Jinhyok Heo, PJ Adams, HO Gao “Quantifying the contribution of individual emissions sources to PM2.5 social costs for designing cost-effective control strategies.”
  • 3rd Guillaume Digoin, N deMarcellis-Warin, T Warin “Launching a new product in a buzzing world: the Apple Watch’s reputation at risk”

The day concluded for many with the annual TERA, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, ice cream social.

Tuesday morning began with more committee sessions: grad student breakfast, risk governance new initiative breakfast, audit committee meeting as well as the regions committee where the discussion focused on the upcoming Latin American SRA meeting in São Paolo, Brazil.

The plenary started the day emotionally with some reflection and appreciation. To provide a good overview of the current refugee situation, Jana Mason, Senior Advisor of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, played a film that didn’t leave a dry eye in the room.

True perspective of a bad day is gained by the following facts; every year political unrest, war and climate change result in tens of millions of people being removed from their homes, a population mostly comprised of women and children who spend on average 17 years in a state of displacement. As Dr. Mason set out the extent of outward refugee flow, Katherine Newland discussed the future global impact of incoming refugee immigration. Ms. Newland is the Co-Founder and Senior Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that is devoted to the study of the movement of people worldwide. She noted that in the context of migration flows the opposite of risk is opportunity, in this case that diversity is an asset and many successful corporations have founders or CEOs of migrant decent, e.g. Pepsi, Coke, Chobani, Google and Amazon. Ms. Newland noted that despite popular perception migrants are less likely to break the law than non-migrants.

We were then all urged to see how, of the 52 disciplines of risk, each member’s work can be applied in solving the future integration, accommodation, mitigation and prevention of crises surrounding human suffering due to displacement.

Throughout the annual meeting, the 2014-2015 SRA President Dr. Pamela Williams co-hosted a series of compelling joint roundtables sponsored by SRA and other professional organizations. The first of the roundtables on Monday featured co-sponsorship with the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis (SBCA) and focused on the link between risk assessment and economic analysis. The discussion was centered around the progress of the NRC’s (2009) proposed new risk-based decision-making framework and to what extent this assessment approach has been implemented. 

On Tuesday, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) co-sponsored our second roundtable with a timely and highly controversial discussion on the risks and benefits of Electronic Cigarettes. Aspects of the debate on public health, social dimensions and regulation were presented to the group followed by a heated discussion on the future of e-cigarette usage.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the statute that regulates commercial chemicals in the US, has recently been the focus of renewed Congressional attention, fueling the third joint roundtable also on Tuesday, which was co-sponsored by the Society of Toxicology (SOT). Risk assessors, administrative lawyers, regulators, NGO’s and a variety of other stakeholders discussed the reform bill as well as its societal and regulatory implications.

Finally, on Wednesday the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) co-led a roundtable discussion and debate on scientific integrity in publications. A clear call to arms was made for the audience to challenge peers when they believe the scientific principles are not being adhered to, and the importance of publishing negative results dominated the discussion.

Midday Tuesday, attendees congregated for the ‘Awards Luncheon and Business Meeting’ where lunch is served while annual business is discussed.  Dr. Williams presented her year as President, first listing her ambitious set of goals for the past year and providing a recap on what was achieved; this included introducing new member webinars, a reformed newsletter template, the SRA joint roundtable with EU Nanotechnology Safety Cluster, a formal Twitter campaign, and the above mentioned society collaborations through joint roundtables. Dr. Williams presented two new inductees to the Pantheons of Risk, Virginia Apgar and Frances Oldham Kelsey and honored the passing of some hugely influential individuals in the field of risk: George Alexeeff, Paul Lioy, Philip Morey and Jack Gibbons.

Newly elected members were introduced and awards were presented. Congratulations to the following outstanding 2015 award recipients:

  • Distinguished Achievement Award: James K. Hammitt, Harvard University
  • Distinguished Educator Award: Michael Siegrist, ETH Zurich
  • Chauncey Starr Awards: Pia-Johanna Schweizer, University of Stuttgart and Abani Pradhan, University of Maryland
  • Richard J Burk Outstanding Service Award: Rae Zimmerman, New York University
  • Outstanding Practitioner Award: Jo Anne Shatkin, Vireo Advisors, LLC
  • SRA Fellow Awards: David Hassenzahl, Robert O’Connor, Joseph Rodricks and Jo Anne Shatkin
  • Presidential Merit Award: David Drupa

Members were given a financial update from Treasurer Jacqueline Patterson and heard a journal recap from Tony Cox. Finally, over dessert the SRA torch was passed on to the newly appointed 2015-2016 SRA President Dr. Jim Lambert and President-Elect Dr. Margaret MacDonell. We wish them great success in achieving their goals for the future of the society.

Wednesday morning meetings included the education committee breakfast, the Environment System & Decisions editorial board meeting as well as the specialty group chairs breakfast.

The unorthodox format of Wednesday morning was a welcome surprise to all attendees. In lieu of plenary presentations, Jim Lambert hosted the all-day Plenary Exhibition in the main ballroom allowing artists from the national capital area and beyond to portray their work related to the aims of the Society and the themes of the meeting. New additions to the meeting also included gifts for first time members, membership survey, and as always attendees collected their iconic yearly meeting t-shirt.

As the meeting came to a close there was opportunity to reflect on the fact we had all come together to discuss risk in a major capital of the world. It brought home how much this issue of risk has developed into now being central to many of the central political debates of the day; for instance immigration, healthcare or tackling climate change. 

Take a look at the photos from the meeting.