American Chemical Society
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Emerging Technologies for Environmental Remediation: Integrating Data and Judgment

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journal contribution
posted on 2016-01-05, 00:00 authored by Matthew E. Bates, Khara D. Grieger, Benjamin D. Trump, Jeffrey M. Keisler, Kenton J. Plourde, Igor Linkov
Emerging technologies present significant challenges to researchers, decision-makers, industry professionals, and other stakeholder groups due to the lack of quantitative risk, benefit, and cost data associated with their use. Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) can support early decisions for emerging technologies when data is too sparse or uncertain for traditional risk assessment. It does this by integrating expert judgment with available quantitative and qualitative inputs across multiple criteria to provide relative technology scores. Here, an MCDA framework provides preliminary insights on the suitability of emerging technologies for environmental remediation by comparing nanotechnology and synthetic biology to conventional remediation methods. Subject matter experts provided judgments regarding the importance of criteria used in the evaluations and scored the technologies with respect to those criteria. The results indicate that synthetic biology may be preferred over nanotechnology and conventional methods for high expected benefits and low deployment costs but that conventional technology may be preferred over emerging technologies for reduced risks and development costs. In the absence of field data regarding the risks, benefits, and costs of emerging technologies, structuring evidence-based expert judgment through a weighted hierarchy of topical questions may be helpful to inform preliminary risk governance and guide emerging technology development and policy.