We get the most information from the sources we trust least: Residents' perceptions of risk communication on industrial contamination

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 2014, 21 (4), pp. 346 - 358
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© 2014 Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand Inc. This article provides insight into associations between risk communication, trust and risk perception through empirical research examining residents' trust in sources of risk communication about contaminants from industrial sites in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The research addresses a gap in empirical research within Australia, and responds to a broader call for further research to improve the understanding and use of risk communication practices. In 2009, a survey of 800 randomly sampled residents living near two industrial source sites were gathered, and focus groups held with 80 of the surveyed residents. The research found that community groups and local councils were the sources that residents trusted most for information about contaminant risk. However, they actually received most risk communication from the sources they trusted least - namely the media, the NSW government and industry. This has implications for the efficacy of risk communication, given that focus group findings suggest that the level of trust people placed in these sources influenced their risk perceptions and behaviours. Findings also suggest that residents' levels of trust in a source was influenced by whether or not they perceived it to share their interests and values, as well as by its current and past performance.
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