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Acceptable EvidenceScience and Values in Risk Management$
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Deborah G. Mayo and Rachelle D. Hollander

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780195089295

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195089295.001.0001

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Guidelines for Communicating Information About Chemical Risks Effectively and Responsibly

Guidelines for Communicating Information About Chemical Risks Effectively and Responsibly

4 (p.66) Guidelines for Communicating Information About Chemical Risks Effectively and Responsibly
Acceptable Evidence

Vincent T. Covello

Peter M. Sandman

Oxford University Press

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (Title III of the Superfund amendments) and many state and local laws are imposing much more openness on the chemical industry. During the next few years, industry officials, government officials, and representatives from public-interest groups will increasingly be called upon to provide and explain information about chemical risks to the general public and to people living near chemical plants. This chapter presents and discusses guidelines for communicating informatio about chemical risks effectively, responsibly and ethically. A basic assumption of the chapter is that discussing risk, when done properly, is always better than withholding information. In the long run, more effective, responsible, and ethical risk communication will be better for communities, industry, government, and society as a whole. The chapter consists of four parts: (1) guidelines for communicating risk information, (2) guidelines for presenting and explaining risk-related numbers and statistics, (3) guidelines for presenting and explaining risk comparisons, and (4) problems frequently encountered in communicating risk information. Most of the material in this chapter deals with health risks, not the risks of accidents. In some cases, accidents raise similar communication issues, especially when most of the expected adverse health effects are long term rather than immediate. However, when considering the risks of accidents, it is generally best to focus on preventive measures, emergency response procedures, containment and remediation procedures, and the extent of the possible damage. There are no easy prescriptions for communicating risk information effectively, responsibly, and ethically (Table 4.1). But those who have studied and participated in debates about risk do generally agree on seven principles that underlie effective risk communication (Covello and Allen 1988). These principles apply equally well to both the public and the private sectors; (Covello and Allen 1988; Covello, McCallum, and Pavlova 1989; Covello, Sandman, Slovic 1987; Covello, von Winterfeldt, and Slovic 1989; Hance, Chess, and Sandman 1987; Krimsky and Plough 1988). Although many of these principles may seem obvious, they are continually and consistently violated. Thus a useful way to read them is try to understand why they are frequently not followed.

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