238512 Perceptions of a federal nuclear facility: Implications for environmental health communication and community outreach

Wednesday, November 2, 2011: 12:30 PM

Tania Basta, PhD, MPH, CHES , Department of Social and Public Health, Ohio University, Athens, OH
Marsha Lewis, MPA , Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, Ohio University, Athens, OH
Michele Morrone, PHD , Department of Social and Public Health, Ohio University, Athens, OH
Background: The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS), a federal facility located in Southern Appalachian Ohio, was one of three facilities in the U.S. that enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons and energy production. The Department of Energy (DOE) recently initiated the process of cleaning up the site to mitigate environmental health risks in the region surrounding the plant. In order to create a vision that is acceptable to the community, they are engaging residents in dialogue about the future of the site. The purpose of this study was to explore public perceptions, knowledge, and opinions related to PORTS in order to inform future communication and outreach activities with the community. Methods: Data were collected from 8 key informant interviews and 3 focus groups (N = 30) in summer 2010, followed by a representative phone sample (N = 1000) with community residents. Results: Qualitative data indicated 1) perceptions of mistrust and secrecy surrounding the plant and 2) skepticism related to the communications activities of DOE, Ohio EPA, and other groups affiliated with the site. The survey data suggested that the majority of the sample was familiar with PORTS, followed news about it, yet still felt uninformed. Conclusion: Lack of information may perpetuate the perceptions of secrecy and mistrust related to the plant by key stakeholders. It will be crucial for future community outreach activities to include providing residents with information about past, current, and future activities in order to ensure productive dialogue and community engagement.

Learning Areas:
Environmental health sciences

Learning Objectives:
1) Discuss the historical and economic importance of a federal nuclear facility in Appalachia. 2) Discuss how public perception can shape environmental health communication strategies and outreach activities.

Keywords: Environmental Health, Community Outreach

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I was the co-principal investigator on this research project and I am a faculty member in Environmental Health Science.
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.