Assessing Environmental Risks from Human Activity

Assessing Environmental Risks from Human Activity

Week 6 Assignment – Assessing Environmental Risks from Human Activity

Overview

As you know, humans need food, shelter, clothing, and other manufactured goods. The production activities related to meeting these needs are sources of environmental risk. As a result, the environmental health management field focuses on risks from food production and manufacturing. In this assignment, you will examine risk in one of these areas, evaluate its characteristics for creating outrage, and describe management efforts for the risk.

Instructions

Write a 4–5 page paper using the following directions:

  1. Select an environmental risk that results from either food production or manufacturing. In the introduction to your paper, identify the specific risk you selected and whether it is related to food production or manufacturing. Describe the food production or manufacturing activity that creates the risk, including details about location or setting, as well as stakeholders.
  2. Risk analysis.
    • Identify the release information.
    • Research the circumstances under which exposure takes place. Either document examples of releases that have taken place or describe plausible release scenarios.
    • Describe the effects of this risk on individual and population health. Provide examples of the effects, specific exposures, and health-related incidents.
  3. Risk Communication: Evaluate the attention-getting potential of this risk based on its characteristics. Page 47 of the textbook lists the features of a risk that are likely to arouse outrage.
  4. Management and Harm Reduction: Research the way this risk is managed and reduced, such as regulation or legislation. If you cannot find the information for this risk, in particular, research management and hard reduction for similar risks. Evaluate the success of at least two risk management or harm reduction approaches for the risk. Support your evaluation with reference to resources. These management or reduction efforts may include the following, or others:
    • Laws that apply to limiting or regulating the activity.
    • Programs or laws that require cleanup related to this risk.
    • Costs of mitigation or treatment of effects.
  5. Use at least four sources to support your writing. Choose sources that are credible, relevant, and appropriate. Cite each source listed on your source page at least one time within your assignment. For help with research, writing, and citation, access the?library?or review?library guides.

This course requires the use of Strayer Writing Standards. For assistance and information, please refer to the Strayer Writing Standards link in the left-hand menu of your course. Check with your professor for any additional instructions.

The specific course learning outcomes associated with this assignment are:

  • Evaluate sources of environmental risk from energy production, manufacturing, and food production for their impact on population health.
  • Assess?strategies used to mitigate the negative effects of environmental hazards on population health

Risk Communication

Whatever the hazard, sharing information about its specific risk is an important part of the risk management process. Such activities are referred to as risk communication. Clearly, communication between substantive experts and members of the public about environmental health concerns is important. Informed consent by participants in research studies, as well as community-based focus groups between community members and governmental agents tasked with “doing something,” are examples of such communication. However, the term risk communication is more often used narrowly to refer to the exchange or transmission of information about an environmental health hazard between experts and those affected by the hazard. The affected group might be people living near a hazardous waste site, for example, or parents whose children’s school is located near a proposed new industrial development.

Communication about environmental health hazards between members of the public and scientists or other experts is often complicated by differences in the way these groups perceive risks. Technical experts tend to think of risks in strictly quantitative terms, whereas the public’s perception of risks is more affected by other factors. Indeed, the public perception of risk has been formulated as “hazard plus outrage”3—that is, the quantitative estimate of risk can be ramped up by a sense of outrage, which is elicited by certain characteristics of the risk.

Research has identified a number of characteristics of hazards that tend to contribute to public outrage. Research by technical experts sought to understand the public’s tendency to under- or overestimate risks relative to scientific estimates, while research by psychologists sought to uncover how nonexperts conceptualize risk. Taken together, these two lines of research identified features of hazards that, for members of the public, tend to make the associated risk seem numerically higher and also somehow less bearable.4-8 That is, these features of hazards tend to generate outrage:

The consequences of the hazard are serious or irreversible (e.g., death or permanent disability).

The hazard kills large numbers of people at once (e.g., the risk of a single plane crash that causes 300 deaths, as opposed to the risk of 200 car accidents that cause 300 deaths).

The hazard simply evokes a gut dread in most people (e.g., radiation).

The hazard is new or unfamiliar, or its consequences are unknown (e.g., genetic engineering as opposed to car accidents).

The hazard was not appreciated as such before an unexpected event (e.g., the flood of molasses that killed 21 people after the rupture of a large storage tank in Boston in 1919).

The consequences of the hazard are delayed (e.g., cancer, with its long latency period) rather than immediate.

The hazard is perceived as not being within an individual’s personal control (e.g., a commercial aviation accident as opposed to a car accident while driving).

The hazard is taken on involuntarily or without knowledge of the risk (e.g., the risk of exposure to secondhand smoke as opposed to the risk of smoking).

The hazard is not natural, but rather manmade (e.g., toxic synthetic chemicals).

The hazard is seen as avoidable or unnecessary, as opposed to, for example, occupational hazards or chemotherapy to treat cancer.

The victims are nearby (although faraway victims can be brought close by media coverage, especially coverage of identifiable individuals, such as miners trapped by a cave-in).

Many environmental health hazards have one or more of these outrage-generating characteristics. In addition, risks that affect people in their homes, such as chemical contamination of drinking water, elicit a powerful emotional response because they strike at the heart of family, security, and even personal identity.9 Furthermore, the public’s outrage tends to be magnified if there are no benefits clearly associated with a risk, if the risk receives a lot of media attention, if the risk results from unethical activities or an unfair process, or if the risk was created by people or institutions they do not trust.10 Outrage may also be particularly acute in those with past experience of injustice, including residents of lower-income neighborhoods or members of historically disadvantaged racial or ethnic groups. The recent exposure of almost 5% of children in Flint, Michigan, to unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water when the city opted to save money by switching its drinking water supply is a recent outrageous example, with a state civil rights review committee calling it the “result of systematic racism.”11

Professionals who communicate about environmental health risks must understand and acknowledge the roots of outrage in a given situation, and they must be committed to genuine two-way communication with diverse stakeholders—those who are affected by the problem at hand and who will be affected by the chosen solution. As a general rule, effective risk communication about environmental health issues requires careful planning; genuine collaboration with stakeholders; careful listening and clear speaking; acknowledgment of outrage, honesty, and compassion; and skill in working with the media.10

Answer preview to Assessing Environmental Risks from Human Activity

Assessing Environmental Risks from Human Activity

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