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Recommended Reading

Risk Communication and Community Right-to-Know:
A Four Community Study of SARA Title III

Kathleen Rest, Sheldon Krimsky and Alonzo Plough

Risk Communication and Community Right-to-Know: A Four Community Study of SARA Title III, by Kathleen Rest, Sheldon Krimsky and Alonzo Plough, published by The Center for Environmental Management at Tufts University, is a 100-page study released in March of 1991. The work focuses on the varying experiences of local emergency planning committee (LEPC) members and community groups in obtaining, utilizing, interpreting and communicating information available under EPCRA. The communities studied were Springfield, MA, Newark, NJ, Texas City, TX and Baytown, TX.

The authors found two primary differences in Title III information usage by the types of groups examined: LEPCs tended to concentrate on contingencies of short-term, emergency-planning procedures, downplaying the ability and desire of the general public to use and correctly interpret Title III data. In contrast, community groups adopted a more long-term approach, seeking to use information with an eye toward eventual risk reduction and pollution prevention. These contrasting styles of involvement, and differing interpretations of Title III's legal mandate vis-a-vis the LEPCs led to considerable tensions between the two groups in each situation. The authors conclude that LEPCs, struggling with limited funds to comply with the law, prefer a limited interpretation of their responsibilities, whereas environmental and community groups, as we well know, see a unique opportunity under Title III to use the data to exert pressure on industry and achieve a greater degree of control over activities carried on in their communities. No surprises here.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the authors conclude prior experience with "risk events" (e.g., chemical accidents) did not seem to contribute significantly to interest in right-to-know information or involvement with the LEPCs. The authors suggest, as researchers are wont to do, that further studies need to be done to determine why some communities, given access to new and substantial risk information, become active in risk reduction while others do not.

Further information and copies of the study may be obtained from: The Center for Environmental Management, Tufts University, Curtis Hall, 474 Boston Avenue, Medford, Massachusetts 02155, (617) 381-3486.

Source: RTK Net, Washington, DC

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