Perceptions of Risk

Increasingly, risk communication involves the local medical community – the first-line recipients of health-driven, risk-related questions from local citizens. Educating physicians in scientifically-based risk communication requires not only sensitivity to their needs and perspectives, but also the credentials and expertise to be respected and accepted by them. ICTM provides both.

ICTM principals have provided expert and third-party testimony before regulatory permit boards and public hearings when health-driven issues have emerged. The issues have been diverse, ranging from public concerns about indoor air quality and odors, and risks associated with the regulated release of constituents from hazardous waste management facilities, to the proposed cleanup of Superfund sites.

ICTM has been involved in such matters as:

  • Well-water contamination
  • Substance spills
  • Underground storage tank releases
  • Flare outs
  • Explosions
  • Fires
  • Pipeline rupture
  • Composting facilities
  • Mold in schools, commercial and residential facilities
  • VOCs in schools
  • PCB exposure via occupational settings and food
  • Power lines
  • Superfund sites
  • Hazardous waste
  • Pesticide exposure

Communicating risk requires an understanding of people and their fears, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of toxins and their effects. It also requires excellent communication skills. ICTM's principals have the expertise that allows an understanding of people, an in-depth knowledge of toxicology and medicine, and the ability to interact effectively with a concerned public.

ICTM Risk Communication Model

ICTM's approach to risk communication includes:

  • Reviewing the scientific facts of the situation and understanding how public perceptions may diverge;
  • Assisting in the development of communication programs which incorporate key stakeholders;
  • Participating in meetings with stakeholders to discuss the concerns and facts of the situation; and
  • Identifying components of the risk/rage matrix that are relevant to the situation.

Health Concerns/Indignation Level Matrix

Communicating risk requires an understanding of people and their fears, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of toxins and their health effects. It also requires excellent communication skills. ICTM's principals have the expertise that allows an understanding of the decision-maker, an in-depth knowledge of toxicology and medicine, and the ability to interact effectively with a concerned public.

ICTM's approach to risk communication includes:

  • Reviewing the scientific facts of the situation and understanding how public perceptions may diverge;
  • Assisting in the development of communication programs which incorporate key stakeholders;
  • Participating in meetings with stakeholders to discuss the concerns and facts of the situation; and
  • Identifying components of the risk/rage matrix that are relevant to the situation

Health Concerns/Indignation Level Matrix

The foundation of an individual or community perception of risk has two components. One is a concern about health problems that might arise as a consequence of some event or industrial activity. The second is an emotional reaction to the event or industrial action: which ICTM describes as degrees of indignation. This indignation has no relationship to the extent of any actual health hazard. Before developing a risk communication strategy, an understanding of which component is driving the concern must be determined.

Chart of ICTM indigation scale

Both components can exist simultaneously, may have equal importance, or one component might predominate over the other. The degree to which these two are important will vary among the stakeholders. Shaping the risk communication strategy depends upon the stakeholders' perceptions of the risk.


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