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- The construction and use of DAGs for causal inference throughout CRA are explained.
- A conceptual model and corresponding DAG are used to illustrate concepts.
- Using DAGs for inferences in CRA can increase accuracy in estimations of risk.
Cumulative risk assessments (CRAs) address exposures to multiple chemical and nonchemical stressors and often focus on characterization of health risks in vulnerable populations. Evaluating complex exposure-response relationships in CRAs requires the use of formal and rigorous methods for causal inference. Directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) are graphical causal models used to organize and communicate knowledge about the underlying causal structure that generates observable data. Using existing graphical theories for causal inference with DAGs, risk analysts can identify confounders and effect measure modifiers to determine if the available data are both internally valid to obtain unbiased risk estimates and are generalizable to populations of interest. Conditional independencies implied by the structure of a DAG can be used to test assumptions used in a CRA against empirical data in a selected study and can contribute to the evidence evaluations related to specific causal pathways. This can facilitate quantitative use of these data, as well as help identify key research gaps, prioritize data collection activities, and evaluate risk management alternatives. DAGs also enable risk analysts to be explicit about sources of uncertainty and to determine whether a causal effect can be estimated from available data. Using a conceptual model and DAG for a hypothetical community located near a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), we illustrate the advantages of using DAGs for evaluating causality in CRAs. DAGs also can be used in conjunction with weight of evidence (WOE) methodology to improve causal analysis for CRA, which could lead to more effective interventions to reduce population health risks.
Journal: Environment International - Volume 102, May 2017, Pages 30-41