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Effective Environmental Risk Communication

Each year, disasters like the California wildfires, Flint, Michigan water contamination and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico make headlines about health crises and their devastating impact on local communities. Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic taught everyone the importance of effective, scientific communication that gives the public clear, meaningful information and direction. However, not all environmental health issues are the result of a disaster or virus. Every day, air pollution, allergens and pesticides impact our lives. Public health professionals are responsible for communicating and educating the public about an environmental risk and its impact on their health.

Although risk communication may start at a high level with organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), local public health professionals who know their community best do the ground work. The risk messenger professional tailors the risk message (communication/education) specifically to a community while considering the community’s unique aspects such as language, culture, experience, spiritual beliefs and political views, as well as supporters or barriers.

A Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) program prepares professionals to meet public health and safety needs with appropriate knowledge of various communities.

What Is Risk Communication?

Risk communication can include: 1) future events focusing on prevention or 2) current emergency events where immediate action is required. The global term “risk” consists of all risk categories — including environmental, work, behavioral, personal and health risk — while “environmental risk” focuses specifically on the setting or location. Often the terms may be interchangeable.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines risk communication as “communication intended to provide a general or specific audience with the information they need to make informed, independent judgments about risks to their health, safety and the environment.”

Both the content and delivery of the message are critical for public action.

How Can a Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) Help?

The online BSPH program at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) offers various courses that help students learn effective techniques for managing public health. For example, UTA’s Environment and Public Health Systems course helps students gain practical risk management skills to improve public health and mitigate risk. In the Communication for Health Professionals course, students pick up strategies for integrating public-health messaging into their technical and professional writing. Through these and other courses in the BSPH program, students learn how to facilitate change as public health professionals.

Learn more about The University of Texas at Arlington’s Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) online program.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Environmental Health Resources Self Learning Module Risk Communication

Bloomberg Green: California’s Air Monitor Finds Toxic Lead in Wildfire Smoke

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Risk Communication for Environmental Health Practitioners

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Environmental Health Topics

National Public Radio: Lead-Laced Water in Flint: A Step-By-Step Look At The Makings Of A Crisis

The Environmental Protection Agency:
Deepwater Horizon – BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
Learn about Risk Communication

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