Environmental Risks, the Leverage of Scientific Information and Data, and Mediated Communication

dc.contributor.authorSeo, Hye-Jeongen
dc.contributor.committeechairSchenk, Todd Edward Williamen
dc.contributor.committeememberWernstedt, Kris F.en
dc.contributor.committeememberZhang, Yangen
dc.contributor.committeememberDuncan, Megan Annen
dc.contributor.departmentPublic Administration/Public Affairsen
dc.description.abstractThis dissertation addresses the complex challenge of communicating knowledge about environmental risks from toxic chemicals. Modern environmental risks are often invisible and technically complex, making the management of these risks highly dependent on data and information. Reliance on risk knowledge necessitates effective dissemination and communication by government agencies, yet the public's engagement with this information remains unclear due to limited real-world studies. This dissertation is comprised of three standalone papers bridging this gap. Each focuses on different aspects of risk knowledge communication using news dialogues as data sources. The first paper investigates the communication of location-specific risk information through a case study of the Radford Army Ammunition Plant (RAAP). Using content analysis and logistic regression, the study examines how scientific information about local environmental issues is presented in news articles and what factors influence its inclusion. Findings highlight the varying capacities among different stakeholder groups to access and utilize scientific information, underscoring the need for governmental and research support for less-resourced groups. The second paper explores chemical-specific risk knowledge, focusing on the environmental risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Employing a structural topic model (STM) and multinomial logistic regression, the study assesses the impact of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)'s Draft Toxicity Assessment for GenX, one of the PFAS chemicals, on news topics. Results indicate that the influence of new risk knowledge on news topics varies depending on community context, with significant impacts observed when communities are ready for governmental action or legislation using the new assessment. The third paper examines the use of the US EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) database in news media. Through exploratory analysis, it reveals how different stakeholders use TRI data to make claims about environmental risks, highlighting that environmental organizations are primary users who often reconstruct TRI data to make it more relevant to the public. This suggests their potential role as intermediaries in risk knowledge communication. This dissertation provides empirical evidence of the limited news coverage of environmental risk knowledge, the dominance of government sources, and the significant role of intermediary groups. The findings suggest policy implications for government agencies and other organizations, highlighting the need to improve the conveyance and communication of risk knowledge. Recommendations include providing more contextual information and training for communities and intermediary groups on interpreting and utilizing risk data and information. These aim to bolster public comprehension and responsiveness to environmental risks, thereby protecting public safety and health.en
dc.description.abstractgeneralToxic chemicals in our environment pose serious risks, but these dangers are often invisible and complex, making them hard to understand and manage without data and information about them. This dissertation explores how information about these risks is shared with the public through printed and online news coverage, aiming to enhance communication and our understanding of these environmental threats. This dissertation presents findings from three studies, each focusing on different types of risk information. The first looks at scientific information about local environmental risks at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant communicated in the news. It shows that not all groups have the same ability to access and use scientific data, and people tend to or feel compelled to bring up scientific information when they claim that risks exist, while the same level of scientific proof is not deemed necessary when denying the risks. The second study identifies topics in the news coverage of a specific chemical risk, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination across the United States. This study also reveals how the publication of a new risk assessment for GenX – one type of PFAS chemical that was found to be more harmful than previously thought – changes the topics covered in the news. It finds that the impact of the new risk assessment depends on the readiness of communities to engage with the information and take action. The third study examines how a broad database of toxic chemical releases – the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory – is used by various groups speaking in the news. It finds that environmental organizations play a crucial role in making complex data understandable and relevant to the public. Overall, this dissertation highlights the challenges and importance of effectively sharing information about toxic chemicals. It suggests ways for government agencies and other organizations to improve how they communicate these risk data and information, such as providing more context and training for those who advocate or report on these issues. By doing so, we can help the public better understand and respond to environmental risks, ultimately protecting our health and the planet.en
dc.description.degreeDoctor of Philosophyen
dc.publisherVirginia Techen
dc.rightsIn Copyrighten
dc.subjectEnvironmental Risksen
dc.subjectToxic Chemical Risks Risk Knowledgeen
dc.subjectRisk Societyen
dc.subjectPublic Communication of Risk Knowledgeen
dc.subjectRisk Communication via News Mediaen
dc.subjectDialogical Communicationen
dc.subjectContent Analysisen
dc.subjectLogistic Regressionen
dc.subjectStructural Ten
dc.titleEnvironmental Risks, the Leverage of Scientific Information and Data, and Mediated Communicationen
thesis.degree.disciplinePlanning, Governance, and Globalizationen
thesis.degree.grantorVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universityen
thesis.degree.nameDoctor of Philosophyen


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