Book Review: Environmental Risk Communication

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Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry
By Anthony J. Sadar and Mark D. Shull
A Book Review by Marilyn Skolnick

Hotline, Spring 2000

This book attempts to assist those professionals in communicating with a usually angry public about environmental issues. The authors stress that in addition to being knowledgeable about the technical aspects of the presentation, you must have a principled plan of action. They suggest a four point approach under principles:

  1. Operate facility legally and ethically
  2. Educate employees on operation’s benefits and risks
  3. Listen carefully and respond appropriately to public concerns
  4. Be open, honest, considerate, but cautious with the news media

The four principles require a long term, commitment at all levels of an organization, from the board room to the janitorial closet. The book is a how-to, to implement these four principles.

Chapter 1. explains the first step — operating legally and ethically. The second half of chapter 1 has a discussion of crisis communication.

Chapter 2. describes ways of communicating with the employees.

Chapter 3. describes ways to communicate with the public effectively.

Chapter 4. explains how to disseminate a clear, accurate, complete and consistent message to the media.

Chapter 5. present two real life examples of controversial projects — the release of radiation at Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg and the contruction of the hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio.

Chapter 6. details the compliance strategy for the Federal Risk Management Program as published in the FEDERAL REGISTER on June 20, 1996.

This slim volume (150 pages) is chock full of information. There is an index that helps one find a specific point.. The publisher is Lewis Publishers.

While I do know one of the authors, Anthony Sadar, I was not happy with the way he depicted environmental activists. Yes there are extremists, but today activists come prepared with facts, and not just emotion. The emotion comes when the public has not been a part of the planning from day one. This usually comes about because the project owners have not allocated enough money and time for full public participation. A recent example of patience is how the Hazelwood neighborhood organizaed and prevented another coke plant from locating on the site of a previous one. The activists these days have their own experts to help them and are rational in their arguments. What will make people angry is if a controversial project is being proposed and none of the principles of the project will reside in or near the project.

One of the chief complaints from the public is that they have been lied to or told half truths by a project proposer… or worse still, be unable to get accurate information and have to resort to going to court to obtain the information. If a company does not involve the public from the start, then any project will be delayed or stopped completely. All of which can be costly to those concerned. This is a good book if you want to learn how industry thinks. We need all the information we can get.

Note: Anthony Sadar kindly assists GASP at our end-of-the-year air monitor event, the Air Congress.

by Marilyn Skolnick, GASP Board Member