198426 Social conflict and its sources in a slow-motion technological disaster: The Libby, Montana amphibole-asbestos disaster

Wednesday, November 11, 2009: 1:15 PM

Rebecca J. W. Cline, PhD , School of Communication Studies, Kent State University, Kent, OH
Heather Orom, PhD , School of Public Health and Health Professions, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Lisa Berry-Bobovski, MA , Communication and Behavioral Oncology Program, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit, MI
Tanis Hernandez, MSW , Center for Asbestos Related Disease, Libby, MT
Brad Black, MD , Center for Asbestos Related Disease, Libby, MT
Ann G. Schwartz, PhD, MPH , Population Sciences, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Detroit, MI
John C. Ruckdeschel, MD , Nevada Cancer Institute, Las Vegas, NV
Background: Widespread amphibole-asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana created what EPA called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history (>290 deaths; hundreds with asbestos-related disease (ARD)). Like Love Canal, Libby represents “a different kind of disaster” (Levine, 1982). Significance: Evidence indicates that communities' immediate responses to rapid-onset natural disasters are consensus and altruism. Although little studied, slow-motion technological disasters (SMTDs) are characterized by uncertainty and conflict. Our previous research suggested conflict as a dominant response in Libby. Little is known about the dynamics/origins of conflict in SMTDs. Purpose: We investigated intra-community and family conflict and potential conflict origins and issues, including experience with ARD (ARD Diagnosis, Family Members with ARD, Non ARD). Our previous qualitative (focus group) research guided the survey design. Methods: We surveyed randomly-selected households (n=528) and ARD patients (n=68), in Libby. Measures assessed perceived community and family conflict and potential issues in conflict (e.g., ARD is “real/bogus,” disease severity; lawsuit/company attitudes). Results: ARD respondents perceived greater community conflict than Family and Non-ARD respondents; ARD and Family respondents perceived greater family conflict than Non-ARD respondents. Community and family conflict were significantly correlated for ARD respondents only. Issues at the center of conflict include: belief that ARD is bogus, perceived disease severity, lawsuit attitudes, asbestos information fatigue, attitudes toward company, and value of disaster news coverage. Conclusion: Findings suggest that issues in conflict are consistent with the rampant uncertainty surrounding numerous aspects of the disaster. The Libby experience may inform public health and disaster agency responses to communities experiencing SMTDs.

Learning Objectives:
At the conclusion of this session, the participant will be able to identify and understand: (1) important distinctions between rapid-onset natural disasters and slow-motion technological disasters; (2) the nature of community social responses to a slow-motion technological disaster and their implications; and (3) potential sources of community and family conflict in a slow-motion technological disaster.

Keywords: Communication, Disasters

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a PhD and the Principal Investigator for the project that the abstract represents.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.