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Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Sep 16;16(18). pii: E3436. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16183436.

Communicating Arsenic's Risks.

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Cooperative Extension, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA.
Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.
Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.
Present Address: Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.


Arsenic is a naturally occurring toxic metalloid that has many human health implications. Its strong prevalence in the bedrock and thus much of the well water in New England puts many private well owners at risk. It is also found in food products, particularly those that contain rice. Despite the documented health risks, arsenic is not high on the list of concerns for residents of the region. This study will describe two types of environmental communication efforts that have been undertaken by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program (DTMSRP)-the development and evaluation of a comprehensive website, Arsenic and You, and a mental models research approach to better understand the disconnect between expert and community perceptions of arsenic risk. We find that there are knowledge gaps between the two, particularly regarding the origin of arsenic in drinking water and food, the necessity of testing well water, and the process for treating water that is above recommended limits. Moreover, the mental models approach provides a structured framework for better understanding these gaps. A website can address some of these disconnects, and it is important to have a "one-stop shop" for vetted information on the risks and steps to reduce exposure.


arsenic; community based research; environmental communication; mental models; risk communication

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