journal of biomedical informatics
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Risk Perception and Environmental Risks Management in Environment and Health Protection Context

Author(s): Vladimír Bencko, John M. Quinn

Risk Assessment: The qualified expert assessment of potential ecological/environmental and health risks rising from the planned industrial, transport and waste treatment facilities and other construction activities becomes indispensable. Whereas the initial phase of risk assessment, its identification or potential human exposure are of pure scientific character, the actual risk assessment increasingly assumes the arbitrary aspects (e.g. safety coefficients), risk communication, its control and management by way of psychological aspects; collective decision making then becomes a hotly debated political issue.

Risk Perception: When evaluating perception of environmental risks, psychosocial and psychosomatic factors may be of fundamental importance. This is the case in particular where our knowledge of the true health consequences of exposure to given factor is incomplete or its action is within the range of values where we do not anticipate the measurable biological effect. This applies not only in the case of the indoor environment related complains but also e.g. to that of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation and electro-ionic microclimate. A serious consequence found in the syndrome of mass hysteria is the fact that due to differently motivated disinformation, part of the population can suffer from some psychosomatic symptoms. Those imply objective suffering and deterioration quality of life for those affected.

Challenges for Prevention: The prevention of such conditions can either be systematic: early educational or popularisation campaigns, specific health education orientated to the development of industrial, transportation, or other types of constructions, and integration of the local civic activities in the program. The purpose of this should not be a cheap belittling of the risk but reasonable explaining of its acceptable rate, and also the likely advantage to benefit from the realization of the structures. Any later efforts to inform the public about the true state of affairs is usually accepted with distrust and disbelief, in belief this information had been well-paid by the government, industry and market forces, the military or some other institution trying to camouflage the actual condition.