RISK, TRUST, AND GROUP IDENTITY:
ETHNIC AND RACIAL PERCEPTIONS OF ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
ANGELA C. HALFACRE
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE
OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Throughout the intellectual life of this project, my committee members provided
guidance and served as substantial resources. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Walter
Rosenbaum, my advisor, for his wisdom, patience, and belief in me. Special thanks go to
Dr. Norman Markel for taking the time to guide me through the content analysis employed
in this project. I offer my appreciation to Dr. Albert Matheny for his enthusiasm and
encouragement, Dr. Lawrence C. Dodd for his direction and friendship, Dr. M. Margaret
Conway for her insight and good humor, and Dr. Wayne Francis for his statistical
expertise and willingness to help. I owe myriad thanks to the faculty, staff, and fellow
graduate students of the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida for
their generous academic, financial, and personal support over the last five years. I also
wish to thank the Political Science department faculty at Furman University, and especially
Dr. Donald Gordon for motivating me during my undergraduate studies and encouraging
me to attend the University of Florida.
Many others have encouraged me to pursue and complete this dissertation. I
would like to thank my friends for providing me with well-needed distractions including
long walks and talks. Some of my friends have had unique roles in completing the
dissertation. I owe an invaluable debt to Fiona Mary Wright for her willingness to help me
find the forest when the trees sometimes got in the way both intellectually and personally.
Dr Matthew Corrigan, Frederick Roe, Timothy Nordstrom, and Dr. Marcus Kurtz all
played significant roles in convincing me I could finish the dissertation. Chris A. Faircloth
deserves recognition for exposing me to a variety of qualitative approaches. Special
appreciation goes to Elizabeth Anne Stiles who was there with consistent encouragement
and energy whenever I needed it. I deeply thank Marcus Gow Harvey for thoughtfulness,
emotional strength, and helping me go back to the trees to clarify the forest. I also wish to
thank my new friends in Plattsville, Ontario, and especially Jenny and Gow Harvey for
making the end of the road of this endeavor so pleasant.
Most importantly, I wish to thank my family for their patience, support, and love.
My parents, Carolyn and Gordon Halfacre, have been and continue to be constant sources
of strength and assurance. My brother Robert Halfacre is my most trustworthy source,
and I wish to dedicate this dissertation to him.
I would also like to thank the Consortium for Environmental Risk Evaluation
(CERE) and the U.S. Department of Energy for use of the focus group data analyzed in
this dissertation. Dr. Sally O'Connor of Xavier University was particularly helpful and
generous in providing the data. Again, I am appreciative of Dr. Walter Rosenbaum for his
assistance in obtaining this data. The writing of this dissertation was partially funded by a
University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' fellowship.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS .. .... .... ....................... .. ... ii
ABSTRACT ..... ...... .. .................. ..... .. vii
1 INTRODUCTION ..... ................... I 1
The Nuclear W weapons Complex ................... .. .. 4
The Cloak of Secrecy and the Distrust It Generated ....... .......... 5
The DOE's New Mission: The "Openness Initiative" ................... 13
The Scope of the Problem: Damage and Cleanup Cost ........... ..... 15
Risk, Resource Scarcity, and Cleanup Priorities .. .. ..... ......... .... 17
Public Perception of Risk: Is There Only One? ........... .. 18
Considering Race and Ethnicity .... ... .. .. .. 19
The CERE Study .. ...... .... .. .................... 19
W hyFocus Groups? .......... ......... ........ ....... 22
Dissertation Outline: Ethnic and Racial Differences in Environmental Risk
Perception and Repositories of Trust about Risk Management ........... 22
The Policy Importance of this Study: Working Toward More Legitimate
and Effective Government ..... .. . 25
2 EXISTING THEORY AND FRAMING THE PROBLEM ................. 27
Minority Populations Have Higher Levels of Exposure to Environmental
H azard s . . .. . . . 2 8
Minorities' Risk Perceptions: Could They Differ from Other Citizens'
Perceptions? ........ ........................ .... 42
Minorities' Risk Perceptions: Do They Differ from Other Citizens' Perceptions? 50
Environmental Racism Indicates Differentiation in Risk Perception
and Trust Among Ethnic and Racial Groups ......... ....... .. 55
Research Questions ...... ..................... .. ........ 61
Conclusion: The Significance for Policymaking of Minority Concern
about Environmental Risk .... ..... 62
3 RESEARCH DESIGN
Case Selection: Why These Sites? .. ......
Site D descriptions .. .........................
Data Employed: Description of the CERE Study .................
W hy Focus Groups? .............. ..............
Major Strengths of the Focus Group Data Used in This Research .. .
Major Weaknesses of the Focus Group Data Used in This Research ..
Validity of the Focus Group Results Compared With Survey Research
M ethodology Employed .................... ....
Content Analysis of the Focus Group Data .. .... .
Multivariate Statistical Analysis of the Participant Profile Data .
Sum m ary ...... .... .......
4 CONCERN ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL RISK ACROSS
ETHNIC AND RACIAL GROUPS ..... .......
Concern About Environmental Risk .. .....................
What Other Variables Could Explain Variation in Environmental Risk
Concern? .. .. .........
A Matter of Trust9 ........ ..
Sum m ary .............. .. .
5 "WHO DO YOU TRUST?":
CONFIDENCE IN RISK COMMUNICATORS .............
.... 7 1
.. .. ... 72
S. .... 74
. .. 75
Trust Is Crucial for Risk Communication and Policymaking
G general D istrust ............................. .
Trust and Environmental Racism ...
W ho Do You Trust? .....................
Trust in Government ... ........
Trust in Personal Sources ....... ..........
Trust in Nongovernmental Sources .. ...
Trust in Industry .................. ....
Trusting No One ............ ...
Summary ............ ..
6 ETHNIC AND RACIAL VARIATION IN CONCERN ABOUT
ENVIRONMENTAL RISK AND GROUP REPOSITORIES OF TRUST
TOWARD A WORLDVIEW EXPLANATION .........
Cultural Theory: Predicting the Relationship Between Concern About
Environmental Risk and Trust in Risk Communicators .......
Cultural Variation in the Relationship Between Concern About Environmental
Risk and Trust in Government and Other Social Institutions ..........
Immediate Concerns: An Ethnic and Racial Group-Based Comparison ...
.. 12 1
.. .. .. .. 132
.. ..... 136
. . . 14 1
. . .. 14 1
The Immediacy of Racism and Discrimination .......... .... .. ... 162
Economic Dependence: A Serious Consideration and a Powerful Force ... 167
Homogeneity of Experience ...... ..... ..... .. 171
Conclusion: Toward a Cultural Worldview Explanation of the Relationship
Between Concern About Environmental Risk and Repositories of Trust 173
7 CONCLUSION ................. ............... .. 175
What About Native Americans? ........ ......... ....... ........ 175
Implications for Risk Communicators ....... .. ........ ....... .. 180
Recommendations ................... ... .................. 183
Generalizability of the Findings ............... .. ... ...... 183
Where Do We Go From Here? ....... .......... .......... 184
A GAO SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS OF DEMOGRAPHIC STUDIES ... 188
B TYPE B FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT RECRUITMENT
SPECIFICATIONS (DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS) ...... 192
C TYPE A AND TYPE B FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION GUIDES ........ 205
D FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT PROFILE FORM ......... ........ 216
E FOCUS GROUPS USED IN EACH COMPONENT OF THE ANALYSIS ...218
F QUESTIONS USED IN ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN CONTENT
ANALYSIS ............................ ......... ... 220
G CATEGORY DEFINITIONS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN
(TABLE 4-1) ...... ................ ...... ...... 223
H CATEGORY DEFINITIONS FOR CONCERN CARD RESPONSES
(TABLE 6-5) ................................. ........ 228
I CODING RULES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN (TABLE 4-1) .. 231
J VARIABLE DESCRIPTIONS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN
ORDERED PROBIT (TABLE 4-8) .......... ... .. 232
REFERENCES .. .. ................. 234
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .................... .............. 244
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
RISK, TRUST, AND GROUP IDENTITY:
ETHNIC AND RACIAL PERCEPTIONS OF ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
Angela C. Halfacre
Chairman: Walter A. Rosenbaum
Major Department: Political Science
Evidence indicates that racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are
frequently exposed to more environmental hazards than the general population.
However, few empirical studies clarify how ethnic and racial experiences affect concerns
about environmental risk. These concerns have significant implications for policymaking
and for politics. Grassroots organizations, such as the Environmental Justice Movement,
have evolved because minorities view their exposure to environmental risk as being
strikingly different from the majority of the population.
Policymakers need to consider such group-specific concerns when communicating
risk to the general public. Risk communication studies indicate that trust is of central
importance to such communication, but current research shows trust in government has
declined. This is markedly true with regard to ethnic and racial minorities who, because of
higher levels of exposure to environmental risks and concerns about environmental racism,
may have more reason for their lack of trust.
This dissertation focuses on how ethnicity and race influence perceptions of
environmental risks which in turn effects trust in government and social institutions. Focus
group data comprised of interviews with African-American, Asian-American, Latino,
Native American and white individuals living near six Department of Energy nuclear
weapons sites undergoing environmental cleanup is examined through content analysis.
The Consortium for Environmental Risk Evaluation (CERE) conducted these focus
groups in 1994 and 1995 for the U.S. Department of Energy. The data provide
characterizations of environmental concern across ethnic and racial groups and pinpoints
social and political institutions that have the trust of each group.
Given differences in concern about environmental risk and the institutions in which
different groups invest trust, effective communication between public authorities and
citizens requires attention to the appropriate intermediary in risk communication. To the
extent to which public agencies recognize differences between whites and nonwhites,
among racial and ethnic groups, and within each ethnic or racial group and subsequently
improve citizen access and involvement, the legitimacy and effectiveness of government
may be enhanced.
It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power
of the universe It is the greatest thing in history.
(President Harry S. Truman, August 6, 1945)
At some point this American nation state, this government has to
start listening to some of the things we are saying from our
perception. Because we still have the ability to communicate with
our Sacred Father and our Holy Mother. They tell us things and
they can. If any of those people in the government are, if any of
them have a little part of being human left and haven't been totally
absorbed by this cancerous system, if they have any kind of heart,
or soul, or feeling then maybe, what I'm saying right now, maybe
one who has some ears. Maybe one will listen. And if so, if it's one
if it's ten that will listen then we have some people that we would
like to introduce them to. So they can learn the answer to these big
destructive mistakes we are making because their people are
underlying too. But meanwhile they put us on the frontlines
because they take it out of our communities. They process it in our
communities. They test it in our communities. And then when they
don't know what to do with the waste they want to dump it back
into our communities. So I think that if anybody's voice should be
heard about this it should be the Indians. (Native American
Woman, Rocky Flats)
Technological progress comes at great costs: America's cold war nuclear arsenal
caused significant environmental degradation and a lingering problem. A changed political
climate and the magnitude of the damage at some of the facilities used to produce nuclear
weapons made environmental restoration imperative. However, assessments of the risks
posed by these sites are inconclusive; the costs of cleaning them up are astronomical, and
technologies do not yet exist to handle and dispose of some of the wastes. The
uncertainty and problems inherent in such cleanup have led many to call for greater
inclusion of the public in determining risk priorities. Further complicating matters,
officials at all the nuclear weapons facilities have communicated misinformation about
risks--in varying degrees--to affected citizens and workers. A climate of fiscal austerity
now necessitates that cleanup operations be ranked in priority order, but the history of
miscommunication and attendant lack of public confidence in the authorities charged with
managing these facilities make direct citizen participation in the assessment of risks and
the setting of priorities tremendously important.
Can uniform public concern about this environmental remediation be assumed to
exist? The answer is critical to policy decisions and the difficulties involved with this
cleanup because agencies are increasingly including the public in their decision-making,
implementation of initiatives, and evaluation of existing policies. Scholars have
documented differing concern about environmental risks between scientists and laypeople
(individuals without scientific expertise), women and men, liberals and conservatives,
young and old, whites and "nonwhites."' It makes sense that the socially heterogeneous
United States would harbor a variety of views of environmental risk. How can
policymakers incorporate a multitude of sometimes contradictory viewpoints in new
policies, how can differences be resolved, and how may all views be effectively heard? In
particular, minority and lower-income individuals rarely find themselves included in the
SFischhoffet al. (1983) and Flynn et al. (1993) document differences between experts
and laypeople. Greenberg and Schneider (1993) find variation in women and men's
perception of risk. Wildavsky and Drake (1990) suggest differences between liberals and
conservatives. Kanagy et al. (1994) find differences among age cohorts. Savage (1993)
and Flynn et al (1994) document differences between whites and nonwhites.
political process; yet, these traditionally underrepresented groups may have substantially
different views of the environmental risks to which they are exposed than the rest of the
population and they are gaining political influence.2
This research project has several related objectives. It considers the views of
environmental risks held by various segments of the policy-relevant population and
investigates the extent to which minority groups hold substantially different views than the
majority white population. Specifically, what are the relationships among such factors as
minority status, concern about environmental risk, and institutional repositories of trust
during risk communication? How do ethnicity and race influence perceptions of
environmental risks, and to what extent do these perceptions, in turn, affect and reflect
trust in government and other social institutions? Do these perceptions influence
preferences for cleanup strategies? Substantial evidence indicates that ethnic and racial
minorities suffer greater exposure to environmental hazards than does the general
population. Such grassroots organizations as the Environmental Justice Movement arose
precisely because minorities view their level of exposure to environmental risk as being
markedly higher than that of the bulk of the population. This study deals with the
consequences of those perceptions.
This analysis employs a unique dataset that allows race and ethnicity to be assessed
as important variables in measuring concern about environmental risk and determining
who individuals trust to communicate information to them about risk. This dataset
includes interviews with focus groups constituted exclusively of African-American, Asian-
American, Latino, Native American, and white individuals living near six Department of
2 See the discussion of the Environmental Justice Movement (EJM) later in this chapter.
Energy nuclear weapons sites presently undergoing environmental cleanup operations.
Previous studies document different perceptions of environmental risk between whites and
"nonwhites": this project disaggregates the broad category "nonwhite" into sociologically
meaningful groups to suggest the existence of important differences among ethnic and
racial groups respecting their perceptions of environmental risks as well as the entities that
they trust to communicate information about those risks. Intuitively, one expects that risk
perception is influenced by how risks are communicated and who communicates such
The Nuclear Weapons Comolex
In 1939, Niels Bohr, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, cautioned that creating an
atomic bomb would turn the United States into "one huge factory" (U.S. Department of
Energy, 1995, 2). Enormous resources--material and human--poured into the atomic
bomb because the "Manhattan Project" was deemed to be vitally important to national and
global security. The Pentagon's sense of urgency to harness nuclear explosives stemmed
from the fear that Adolph Hitler's Germany might perfect them first. The Axis powers
lost the race, and America built an atomic bomb in three years.
After World War II, mounting tension between the United States and the Soviet
Union led to the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The nuclear arms
race lasted for decades, spawning "the nuclear weapons complex" which produced,
researched, and tested America's nuclear weapons. The complex included test grounds,
national laboratories, production facilities, and warehouses (even ones in downtown New
York to store uranium). At its zenith, the complex had 16 major facilities and large land
reservations in South Carolina, Washington, Nevada, and Idaho. Over a period of 50
years, the nuclear weapons complex detonated more than 1000 nuclear warheads. From
the Manhattan Project (1942) to the present, the United States spent nearly $300 billion
on its nuclear arsenal (U.S Department of Energy. 1995, 2). Bohr's prediction that the
United States would become "one huge factory," in many ways, became a reality.
To regulate this "factory," the United States Congress passed the Atomic Energy
Act of 1946 which established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Intended to
control the uses and production of nuclear power, the Commission initially oversaw the
production of nuclear weapons. However, its domain soon expanded into peacetime
applications of nuclear technologies--atomic research and the development of electrical
power stations. Heightened public awareness of environmental issues in the late 1960s
and early 1970s coupled with concerns about nuclear reactor design, led to the bifurcation
of the regulatory agency once responsible for both civilian power generating and weapon
making. In 1975, two newly created agencies--the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA)--assumed the
responsibilities of the AEC. The NRC regulated civilian uses of nuclear energy, while the
ERDA monitored the nuclear weapons complex. Two years later, a newly created
Department of Energy (DOE) assumed administrative responsibility over the complex and
continues to act in this capacity to the present.
The Cloak of Secrecy and the Distrust It Generated
Until the late 1980s, the DOE and its predecessor agencies consistently told the
public that its facilities and activities posed no significant threat to the environment or
human health. The DOE insisted on secrecy for the sake of national security. As the AEC
observed in a Report of the Safety adnd hdustrial Health Advisory Board, agencies
responsible for managing the nuclear weapons complex knew as early as 1948 of potential
The Atomic Energy Commission isolated its projects, built plants which are a
marvel of engineering and guarded them with extraordinary efficiency. Their sins
of emission--liquid, solid, or gaseous--were diluted and isolated to what was
estimated as perfectly safe, but AEC is now entering a phase in which their
operations in this regard will soon be public property and they will be accountable
to public health--a very severe critic. ... In the past [,] to produce atomic bombs
during the war certain risks may have been taken in research, production, testing,
transportation and waste disposal with the understanding that subsequently more
effective control measures would ameliorate these risks and lessen the hazardous
conditions formerly created. ... The ultimate disposal of contaminated waste--
sub-surface, surface and air-borne--needs much more thorough study. Even the
simplest of such data--recorded periodic measurements of stream pollution below
the plants--are almost wholly lacking. Even with such records, present knowledge
of radiation and chemically toxic effects on animal and vegetable life is so limited
that water supply inlets below plant disposal outlets cannot be unqualifiedly
recommended. The disposal of contaminated waste in present quantities and by
present methods (in tanks or burial grounds or at sea), if continued for decades,
presents the gravest of problems. (United States Atomic Energy Commission
(1948) cited in U.S. Department of Energy, 1995, 8)
The AEC ignored concerns that the contamination could "if continued for decades,
present the gravest of problems," and, while the Cold War escalated, the agency continued
to regard worker and environmental safety as internal matters.
In the 1980s, several citizen groups sounded the alarm about the potential health
risks posed by DOE facilities. Even when citizens voiced their concerns, the DOE did not
initially address them. Instead, the DOE put substantial funds into publicity campaigns
designed to alleviate public fears Nevertheless, some citizens remained outraged by the
DOE and its predecessor agencies' exemption from the laws, regulations, and moral
precepts governing other citizens, industries, and agencies. Stewart Udall, a former
Congressman and Secretary of the Interior under the Kennedy and Johnson
administrations, remarked on the situation:
How did our country's policy makers justify dealing with their fellow citizens in
ways which violate common standards of decency? It was clear that for three
decades our nuclear weapons establishment had acted on the assumption that they
occupied a special, Olympian niche in the nation's government. Their documents
told me that they had conducted their activities as though they were authorized to
ignore the laws that governed the lives of other Americans; and, like the
apparatchiks in Communist countries, they made and executed their decisions on
the assumption that they were the guardians of their nation's security and therefore
accountable only to themselves. (Udall, 1994, 20-21)
Udall's indignation can better be understood by examining closely what happened at one
nuclear weapons facility.
Rocky Flats: The Deliberate Communication of Misinformation
Why do citizens living near DOE facilities distrust that agency to communicate
information about risk associated with its facilities? The experiences of citizens at Rocky
Flats led Dora G Lodwick to chart what she calls the failure to follow through on a duty
or trust of government and industry as well as the resultant public distrust at Rocky Flats
(Lodwick, 1993, 150). Lodwick considers four periods in the history of Rocky Flats. In
the National Security Era (1951-1969), when most of the plants across the country got
their start, the public gladly received the facility and trusted government and management.
During the Period of Tension (1970-1987), trust wavered as citizens and state politicians
became suspicious of health, safety, and environment reports issued from Rocky Flats.
The Era of Revelation (1988-1989) saw such suspicions confirmed, and several deceptions
revealed. The Struggles of Distrust (1989-1990) resulted in the discontinuation of
production; environmental restoration and worker lawsuits became the new foci of
attention at the facility. This chronology parallels developments at many DOE plants
across the county.3
Lodwick specifies several instances of untrustworthy behavior by management and
government.4 One incident is especially noteworthy. On 6 June 1989, the Federal Bureau
of Investigation (FBI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a
surprise inspection at the Rocky Flats plant. In "Operation Desert Glow," agents
instructed workers to continue at their jobs while investigators collected documents and
conducted water and soil analyses. The FBI and EPA accused the DOE and the Rockwell
Corporation (the then-current management) of breaking safety-related laws at the plant
and deliberately falsifying documents related to waste disposal and similar matters.
Specifically, the DOE and Rockwell illegally dumped experimental medical wastes and
chemicals into streams that entered the local drinking water supply. They made low
estimates of waste as well as inaccurate declarations about waste disposal at the plant.
Also, they reclassified several hazardous wastes to "nonhazardous," and falsified federal
environmental reports. Concomitant with these charges, the Colorado Department of
Health cited the facility for 25 violations of that state's hazardous waste regulations.
(Lodwick, 1993). These revelations sparked community outrage; local political leaders,
citizens, and workers felt deceived and betrayed. One Colorado State Representative
articulated these sentiments:
3 Hardert (1993) traces similar developments at the Fernald weapons plant.
SDow Chemical Company, Rockwell International, and E.G. and G., Inc. have all
managed the facility. Several government entities have been involved in this history:
namely, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Energy Research and Development
Administrations, the Department of Energy, state and local leaders, Congressional
Representatives and Senators, congressional committees, state and county health
departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Bureau of
It's clear we've been lied to year after year .. there is clear collusion between
Department of Energy officials and Rocky Flats officials plant officials who are
criminally involved must be removed immediately. DOE and Rockwell have done
little to deserve the public's trust and confidence. Credibility here is a critical
value ... DOE is very short on it these days. They can't afford to squander what
they have. ( [unnamed Representative in Lodwick], Rocky Mountain News, June
7, 1989 cited in Lodwick, 1993)
Revelations that the DOE and Rockwell deliberately lied to the public and local officials
proved conspicuous recreancy and elicited emotional expressions of public distrust.
Even those who depended on Rocky Flats for their livelihood and had previously
trusted its management began expressing deep concern about the plant's operation. In
1990, a local citizen group called "Neighbors Concerned About Rocky Flats" interviewed
229 residents of a blue-collar community near the plant to determine their perceptions of
Rocky Flats. The majority of these residents had lived near Rocky Flats for 20 or more
years and either worked at the plant or had friends, family members, or neighbors working
at the facility. In the sample, over 75 percent of those interviewed stressed Rocky Flats'
contribution of jobs and other economic benefits to the surrounding region. However,
despite their high level of economic dependence on the plant, 53% of the respondents
expressed a negative opinion of Rocky Flats: 87% of respondents voiced strong concern
about such specific local issues as air, soil, and water contamination (survey cited in
Other studies document similar concerns at other DOE sites across the country
(e.g., Hardert, 1993). Many individuals living near Rocky Flats maintain that they have
cancer because of exposure to radiation from Rocky Flats. Rocky Flats is not peculiar in
this regard: the management at Hanford in the 1940s and 1950s deliberately released
radioactive iodine 131 to see if .. [the management] could reduce the amount of time
uranium must be cooled before being processed into plutonium, presumably to increase
production (Magnuson cited in Harden, 1993, 136). People who had been exposed
were not informed about the releases until quite recently Those living near the Hanford
site call marks from thyroid operations "downwinder" scars because they maintain that
radioactive-iodine releases from the facility led to thyroid cancer (Cramer et al., 1988).
Why the Cloak of Secrecy Lifted
The end of the Cold War, a changed regulatory environment, increased national
attention on mismanagement at the sites, the intensification of problems at aging facilities,
the potential cost of a cleanup, and the deep public distrust of sites such as Rocky Flats
altered the mission of the DOE. By 1991, the DOE no longer had a reason nor the ability
to maintain their earlier tight-lipped secrecy. Although some secrecy was still crucial in
managing nuclear weapons stockpiles, it was no longer necessary to withhold information
relating to the health and safety of citizens and the environment. Secretary of Energy
Hazel O'Leary promised that "the Department of Energy is removing the cloak of Cold
War secrecy that has shrouded its nuclear weapons program for 50 years ... The Cold
War is over, and we're coming clean" (U.S. Department of Energy, 1995, 83). Congress
mandated that, as of 1992,5 the DOE should be subject to the same environmental laws as
civilian industries (e.g., the Clean Water Act)
Increased National Attention: The Role of the Media
National attention to site problems profoundly effected DOE actions. Although
such local papers as The Rocky Mountain News (Colorado) and The Columbia State and
5 In 1992, Congress passed the Federal Facilities Compliance Act (FFCA) requiring
federal facilities to comply with civilian laws regarding environmental protection.
Record (South Carolina) had reported on health, safety, and environmental effects of the
complex for decades not until 1988 did the national media scrutinize the nuclear weapons
complex. Congressional hearings about restarting operations at the Savannah River Site
(SRS)--the only site that produced tritium--after an operating accident in 1988 sparked
national interest.6 During those hearings, Rep. Mike Synar (D-Oklahoma) and Sen. John
Glenn (D-Ohio) released a 1985 memorandum from an engineer employed by E.I. du
Pont de Nemours and Co (the contractor operating the SRS since its opening in 1952).
The memo documented 30 serious accidents at the SRS: some approached the gravity of
the near catastrophic partial meltdown of a commercial reactor at Three Mile Island near
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in March 1979. The accidents at SRS included the melting of
radioactive fuel as well as significant releases of radioactivity into the atmosphere and
ground water. The local press described many of these accidents; however, military
secrecy and employee loyalty at the SRS had kept details from the press and general
Neither reporters nor congressional aides revealed the most damning information
about the damage wrought at the SRS nuclear weapons facilities. The DOE itself broke
its habitual silence about risks posed by the sites and voluntarily released the DuPont
memo along with information about the high costs of maintaining the weapons arsenal.
Whereas national security had provided a cloak of secrecy for the agency in the past, the
' Tritium is a radioactive, gaseous form of heavy hydrogen that is used to increase the
explosive force of H-bombs. Plutonium, the central ingredient in nuclear weapons, is a
heavy metal. By using tritium, warheads can be made lighter and more powerful.
Approximately 90% of the warheads in the United States arsenal contain tritium.
Tritium's radioactivity decays at a rate of 5.5 percent a year (unlike plutonium which
decays much more slowly); therefore, new tritium must be periodically added to the
warheads to keep them operational (Lanouette, 1990).
anticipated cost overhauling the system and cleaning up the environment around sites led
the DOE to disclose the state of its facilities and the extent of the damage it caused.
These disclosures were a calculated risk: [the DOE]... admitted] serious failures
and longstanding problems in order to make the case for surprising budget increases"
(Lanouette, 1990, 12-13).
As a result of this information release and the attendant media response, the
nuclear weapons complex gained national recognizability. The October 1988 cover of
Time magazine pictured a couple with their two sons, one of whom was missing a leg; the
caption read "They Lied to Us." The article's full title: "They Lied to Us: Unsafe, Aging
U.S. Weapons Plants Are Stirring Fear and Disillusionment" points to its substantive
depiction of "Government complacency, recklessness, and secrecy" surrounding the
network of Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities across the United
States (Cramer et al., 1988, 61). The risks posed by these nuclear weapons facilities and
the widespread distrust in those communicating information about these risks are
significant, not only to Time's cover family, but also to countless other individuals who
may have been exposed to hazards from any one of the 132 DOE facilities.
Changes in the Regulatory Environment
Self regulation had freed the DOE from the environmental restraints imposed on
civilian industrial and manufacturing operations. Beginning in the 1970s, civilian industry
was subject to increasing regulation in addition to federal clean air and water standards.
Despite the passage of Federal right-to-know laws in the 1980s, the DOE vigorously
resisted efforts by other federal agencies and state governments to exercise environmental
oversight. Until the mid-1980s, the DOE claimed that, because it was under the
jurisdiction of the Atomic Energy Act and its amendments, it was exempt from all civilian
laws. The problems resulting from nuclear wastes at the DOE sites are generally more
substantial than those resulting from civilian industries. The nuclear weapons complex
contaminated unprecedented amounts of soil and water (Makhijani, 1995). Moreover, the
DOE's stress on public relations rather than public education about the risks stemming
from the nuclear weapons complex ensured that precautions which might have helped
affected individuals to protect themselves were not taken (Makhijani, 1995). After 1992,
when Congress passed the Federal Facilities Compliance Act (FFCA) requiring federal
facilities to comply with all laws regarding environmental protection, the DOE began
taking substantive steps to address the waste problem for which it was responsible.'
The DOE's New Mission: The "Openness Initiative"
In the late 1980s, concerns about the environmental as well as safety
considerations had led to temporary shut downs of several parts of the nuclear weapons
complex. However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 precipitated the United
States' permanent shutdown of various components of the complex; with the end of the
Cold War, the mission of the Department of Energy changed from producing weapons to
cleaning up the environment.
This new mission has four major components: managing urgent and high-risk
nuclear weapons and facilities, managing a large amount and wide variety of wastes,
7 Several laws pertain to the nuclear weapons complex: the Clean Air Act, the Clean
Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Toxic Substances Control Act,
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or
Superfund), Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act (SARA Title III), Safe Drinking Water Act, and the
Freedom of Information Act (Shulman, 1992).
environmental restoration, and technology development (U.S. Department of Energy,
1995, 6-8). The management of high-risk nuclear weapons and their facilities remains the
DOE's first priority; it is difficult because many of the sites are over 40 years old and
deteriorating. Stabilizing the wastes from the sites is crucial to protecting workers and
the public at large. Although the bulk of the wastes stem from nuclear weapons activities
during the Cold War, the DOE also has responsibility for wastes from some nuclear
research and commercial nuclear power activities. Managing these wastes requires the
development and operation of treatment facilities to prepare the wastes for disposal as
well as efforts to determine where these wastes may be stored.
"Environmental restoration"--or cleanup--at DOE facilities involves a variety of
activities from stabilizing contaminated soil to pumping, treating, and containing ground
water. In several cases, technologies appropriate to the contamination problems do not
exist. The DOE now seeks the input of state and local governments, environmental
regulatory agencies, and the general public to pinpoint cleanup procedures that will "avoid
additional problems, minimize hazards to workers and the public, and minimize the costs
and risk passed on to future generations" (U.S. Department of Energy, 1995, 7). In the
past, the DOE--by its own admission-- "decided, announced, and then defended policy."
The DOE's new "openness initiative" means that it now attempts to "engage the public,
debate, decide, announce then go forward" (Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary cited
in U.S. Department of Energy, 1995, 83).8 Finally, the DOE is developing safe and
effective technologies to ameliorate and resolve contamination problems for which
The CERE study--the source of data for the present research project--reflects this
solutions do not presently exist. This activity is crucial to the long-term successful
management of the Cold War's environmental legacy (U.S. Department of Energy, 1995,
Changing the DOE's mission resulted in the release of declassified information that
has affected the political climate at major facilities. Since 1993, the DOE had been
revealing information on its inventory of plutonium and secret nuclear tests. The
department encouraged "whistleblowers" to report mismanagement as well as
noncompliance with regulations. At present, the DOE solicits citizen involvement to help
set priorities for cleanup and a course of action to deal with the uncertainties of the site
damage. These initiatives, although a step toward a better relationship with the public,
may not be sufficient to restore public faith in the agency. There is hope, however. Living
near the Fernald site, Lisa Crawford--co-founder of Fernald Residents for Environmental
Safety and Health (FRESH)--contends: "Once trust is taken away, it's very hard to get it
back. [The] DOE must continue to work cooperatively with the community and clean up
the Fernald site. Then, and only then, will the possibility of trust be restored" (U.S.
Department of Energy, 1995, 72).
The Scope of the Problem: Damage and Cleanup Cost
Reports in the mainstream media now illuminate the scope of the environmental
damage at the sites. The 200 billion gallons of low-level nuclear waste dumped into
ponds and other basins at all DOE sites could fill a 40 foot deep lake covering an area the
size of Manhattan. At present, the United States has 20 million cubic meters of nuclear
9 As of 1993, new nuclear weapons are not produced in the United States; however,
designing weapons continues (Makhijani et al., 1995).
waste requiring disposal. Reports of radioactive wildlife are common at all of the sites.
Scientists have found radioactive geese, ducks, fish, and turtles at Oak Ridge, Tennessee
(Holloway, 1990). They also found contaminated deer: Radiation is such a part of
people's daily lives at Oak Ridge that when an area hunter kills a deer, he or she will
"routinely run parts of it by a wildlife agent for radiation tests before serving it for dinner"
(Cramer et al., 1988, 65). The Columbia State and Record reported on a four legged owl
and its deformed young found on the grounds of the Savannah River Site. Generally,
scientific experts and the DOE consider the environmental damage at these sites--though
still undergoing assessment--to be vast and significant."
The DOE's most recent conservative total cost estimate for cleanup of its
hundreds of facilities located on all DOE sites is $227 billion over 75 years (U.S.
Department of Energy, 1996). Not surprisingly, the estimated costs rise with the passage
of time. In 1988, the DOE estimated that $100 billion would be needed to cleanup the
sites. Recent external estimates indicate that up to $1 trillion dollars will be necessary to
cleanup the DOE facilities (Veiluva, 1996).
The nature of the cleanup has yet to be determined: the DOE has considered
several land-use options and different levels of cleanup. Hypothetical scenarios under
discussion for the five highest-cost sites range from an "iron fence" to "maximum feasible
greenfields." At the lowest level of cleanup, the "iron fence scenario" will cost about
$150 billion over the next 75 years. The "iron fence" simply seals off contaminated sites
'0 See Makhijani et al., 1995, 216-253, for a detailed description of the damage at several
of the sites.
" These five sites comprise approximately 70 percent of the total cost estimates.
without removing the toxic wastes. The highest level of cleanup--the "maximum feasible
greenfields" scenario--would cost some $284 billion over the next 75 years, but would
return the sites to agricultural or residential use (U S. Department of Energy, 1996).
Significantly, much of the technology needed to accomplish this latter goal has yet to be
developed (Stadie, 1996). Thus, the cost estimate of returning the sites to agricultural or
residential use is quite fragile in the absence of necessary technology.
Risk, Resource Scarcity, and Cleanup Priorities
The cleanup of nuclear weapons facilities raises several complex issues that
illustrate the uncertainty of environmental risk assessment. First, how much radiation is
too much? Radiation exists in nature, making it sometimes difficult to determine what
man-made sources needs to be cleaned up. Substantial hazards obviously need to be
redressed, but debate ranges over how much man-made radiation constitutes a danger to
human well-being Second, some of the cleanup at the DOE sites requires technologies
that have not yet been invented. Should the DOE wait for newer and better technologies
or should it do what can be done with existing technology? Third, and central to this
research, there is much uncertainty over risk assessment. Because of imprecise data,
determining the significance of various risks posed by the sites is problematic.
Consequently, it is hard to determine when and what actions should be taken on the basis
of scientific data or expert opinions alone. Finally, the DOE must weigh any assessment
of the benefits of a cleanup--including the reduction of risks to the public--against its
financial cost (U.S. Department of Energy, 1995, 70)."2
12 The DOE contracted with CERE (the source of data for the present research project) to
aid it in gaining public input, including the views of affected citizens, on these issues.
Public Perception of Risk: Is There Only One?
The DOE has committed itself to consulting citizens about their opinions and
preferences towards managing the risks at the major sites. In making sense of the world,
all individuals rely on their own cognitive maps. These maps locate risk perceptions, or
"intuitive risk judgments," thereby allowing individuals to assess the risks that they
encounter. Few people apply sophisticated technological or scientific analyses to the risks
that they face (Slovic, 1987, 280). A major component of risk perception is an
individual's level of concern about risk Why is concern about environmental risk so
important? Politically, policymakers must understand citizens' concerns about
environmental risk to effectively communicate the threats attendant on specific hazards, to
forge policy responsive to public concerns, and to gain credibility in the process.
Many studies document differences among citizens' levels of concern relating to
environmental risks (e.g., Flynn et al., 1994). Several studies find that experts and the
laypublic (those not engaged in scientific careers) perceive such risks differently (Fischhoff
et al., 1983; Flynn et al., 1993). Other studies document differences between groups
(e.g., Flynn et al., 1994): women, for example, tend to be more concerned with
environmental risk than are men (Greenberg and Schneider, 1995; Davidson and
Freudenberg, 1996). In the socially heterogeneous United States, it is logical that risks
would be perceived differently by different segments of the population. A wide variety of
cultural groups--including those distinguished by gender, age, ethnicity and race--define
such segments. How do such culturally significant variables as ethnicity and race affect
people's concerns about environmental risk? How may they effect the DOE's cleanup?
These questions lie at the heart of this project
Considering Race and Ethnicity
Culture may be conceptualized by looking at shared group experiences. An
individual's ethnicity and race may provide a basis for that individual's concerns about
environmental risk as well as his or her selection of who to trust for information on the
risks to which he or she is exposed. Though tentative, fragmentary evidence suggests that
public concern about environmental risk relates to ethnicity and race and has led some
scholars to call for a more detailed exploration of the importance of these variables
(Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991; Vaughan, 1995a; Vaughan, 1995b). This research
project aims to document differences in the concern of distinct ethnic and racial groups as
these concerns pertain to the environmental risks to which such groups are exposed, and
reflect on trust in government and other social institutions.
The CERE Study
Instructed by Congress to produce a report about the health and safety risks posed
by its sites, the DOE, an agency burdened with the stigma of its long history of
institutional secrecy and deception, chose to contract with the Consortium for
Environmental Risk Evaluation (CERE) to study the six most environmentally degraded
sites." The sites appearing to pose the greatest threat to public health and safety were:
Hanford Site (Richland, Washington), Savannah River Site (Aiken, South Carolina), Oak
Ridge Reservation (Oak Ridge, Tennessee), Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site
(Golden, Colorado), and Fernald Environmental Management Program (Fernald, Ohio).
Figure 1-1 locates these sites.
" This is one of many DOE-contracted and other studies related to this problem.
The CERE study had two components: it provided an expert assessment of risks as
well as a report on public concerns about those risks. Documenting public concerns was
central to the project because, "in many cases, the most vexing problems cannot be
addressed solely by science but will require a broad-base and informed public debate"
(U.S. Department of Energy, 1995, 86). The study's public concern component provided
a wealth of data with the potential to illuminate differences among groups in their level of
concern about environmental risk.
In keeping with the DOE's new mission, CERE went beyond the conventional
public hearing format and characterized public concerns from local communities aroundthe
nuclear weapons facilities. At all the sites selected for study, CERE conducted focus
groups. CERE did something else unconventional: it targeted traditionally
underrepresented groups including minorities and lower income individuals who have
historically had limited, if any voice, in the political process. Almost one-third of the total
number of focus groups contained individuals drawn exclusively from members of
traditionally underrepresented groups and those "disproportionately effected" by the DOE
site. These groups were African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, Native
Americans, downwind whites, and downgradient whites." Focus group data offer a
unique opportunity to assess whether different ethnic and racial groups vary in their level
of concern about the environmental risks to which they are exposed and how they view
" The downwind populations include "those individuals who live in areas determined to be
downwind from the installation based on airborne emission studies;" downgradient
individuals make up the "population. in the direction of groundwater flow away from
the installation" (CERE, 1995)
Figure 1-1. DOE Weapons Complex Installations Included in CERE Study
the communicators of those risks." These data permit an exploration of these topics
leading to new interpretations for the results."
Why Focus Groups?
Although Chapter 3 assesses focus group methodologies, it is useful here to
observe that they provide an useful alternative to survey research approaches for several
important reasons. Surveys, often used to examine attitudes toward the environment,
seldom measure in any depth or detail the contextual and situational nature of such
attitudes; they seldom address how and why individuals view the environment as they do.
Survey research does not usually provide much insight about the cognitive processes
associated with citizens' thinking about environmental issues or citizens' concerns about
risk priorities. Because of these limitations surrounding the interpretation of survey
research results, focus groups were appropriate for gaining a better and more detailed
understanding of the wishes of citizens.
Dissertation Outline: Ethnic and Racial Differences in Environmental Risk Perception
and Repositories of Trust about Risk Management
Chapter 2 examines the reasons why different ethnic and racial groups might hold
varying perceptions of risk: it reviews the evidence showing that minorities have
disproportionately high levels of exposure to environmental hazards. Perceptions of risk,
however, are distinct from objective levels of risk, and must be explained with reference to
" As with most studies that use national surveys, the author had no control over the focus
groups. Thus, the data analyzed here--not conducted by the author--was collected for
purposes other than the author's. The author necessarily remains dependent on the
material and the format in which it was collected.
~" The data cannot sustain statistical generalizations across populations.
psychological, social and cultural variables. This study adopts the comparatively under-
used social and cultural approach to risk perception. The existing literature suggests that
ethnic and racial minorities perceive risks in ways quite distinct from whites, but it has
serious limitations. Most studies fail to disaggregate the "nonwhite" population into
sociologically meaningful groups. Moreover, there is no standardization in the
measurement of concern about environmental risk across studies. The focus group data
analyzed here permits empirical examination of the question of inter-group conceptual
homogeneity with respect to "environmental risks." This research predicts that differences
with respect to the institutions that individuals look to for credible risk communication will
parallel difference among groups' perceptions of risk.
Chapter 3 discusses the dissertation's research design. This chapter describes the
CERE data and discusses the strengths of focus group data for research on questions for
which there is an absence of strong pre-existing theory. Focus group data provide
qualitatively superior measurement and mitigate against a priori restrictions on the sorts
of information collected. The researcher applies content analysis to the data to discern
variation in concern about environmental risk and institutional repositories of trust. An
ordered probit analyzes the survey component of the CERE study and establishes ethnicity
and race to be important in the determination of an individual's level of concern over
Chapter 4 documents that, among distinct ethnic and racial groups, there do
appear to be substantial differences in levels of concern about environmental risk. It
suggests that there is no homogeneity among "nonwhites" in the study with respect their
risk perception. Also, it documents substantial differences across racial and ethnic groups
in the level of general environmental concern that they exhibit, even when background
income and demographic controls are introduced In this chapter, the researcher
hypotheses that variations in concern about environmental risk relate to the institutions
which individuals trust or distrust to communicate truthful risk information.
Chapter 5 argues that public trust is crucial for effective risk communication to
citizens as well as to policy-making. To effectively communicate risk, decision-makers
must comprehend the effect and effectiveness of their messages on those receiving them.
This chapter briefly reviews the existing literature on inter-group differences in trust in
government and other social institutions. The data analyzed in this research reveals
substantial differences in individuals' institutional trust repositories. This chapter argues
that a strong relationship between risk perception and institutional repositories of trust
Chapter 6 examines the relationship between concern about environmental risk and
trust in risk communicators. From the data here, concern about environmental risk tends
to be affected by who groups trust for information about these risks. This chapter
develops the thesis that group heritage and background is central in explaining group-
based trust and has a profound impact on concerns about environmental risk.
The concluding chapter summarizes the previous chapters and uses their findings
and assertions to explore data from the Native American focus groups and to provide
specific policy recommendations for all ethnic and racial groups in the study. For
example, it proposes that policymakers need to be made aware of the strength of African-
American's concern about environmental risk as well as this group's lack of trust in
government. To have effective risk communication, policymakers must coordinate their
efforts with citizen groups, and be sensitive to the distrust African-American individuals
The Policy Importance of this Study: Working Toward More Legitimate
and Effective Government
Citizens no longer implicitly nor generously trust important social institutions.
This renders government decision making more difficult and threatens the legitimacy of its
policy processes. For a society to function smoothly, government must restore the
confidence of the citizens it governs. Most individuals associate their distrust with
Congress and the poor image of many politicians. However, distrust has important
implications for policymakers and agencies, such as the Department of Energy (DOE),
which daily communicate environmental risks effecting the public. The citizens exposed to
environmental risks from DOE sites need to be informed--accurately and fully--about
these risks, and the agency realizes that it must restore its own credibility before the public
before this can occur.
Implicit in our notions of legitimate government are ideas of representation.
Citizens should be able to trust the government to act in their interest and government
should provide citizens with opportunities to participate meaningfully and equally its
processes. In terms of the DOE sites, ideally all affected citizens should be allowed to
participate in the processes of the cleanup. This applies to everyone, especially those
people who have historically been "outside the process" such as minorities and lower
This study can make a significant contribution to the development of mechanisms
for strengthening legitimate government by exploring and documenting differences among
ethnic and racial groups in the following chapters. Given the existence of differences in
concern about environmental risk and the institutions in which different groups invest
trust, effective communication between public authorities and citizens requires attention to
the appropriate intermediary in risk communication. Further, to the extent to which
public agencies recognize differences among ethnic and racial groups and improve citizen
access and involvement, this recognition and these actions should enhance government
legitimacy and effectiveness.
EXISTING THEORY AND FRAMING THE PROBLEM
Substantial evidence indicates that racial and ethnic minorities in the United States
are consistently exposed to more environmental hazards than the bulk of the population.
Theories of risk perception, generally, imply variation in risk perceptions among citizens in
the socially heterogeneous United States. However, relatively few empirical studies of the
risk perceptions of minority groups clarify differences among them in how they perceive
the environmental risks to which they are exposed. The recognition of differences in
concern about environmental risk among minority populations has significant implications
for policymaking because these perceptions have political consequences. As mentioned in
the preceding chapter, the Environmental Justice Movement (EJM) organized because
ethnic and racial minorities view their exposure to environmental risk as being different
from that of the majority of the population.
As a consequence of such developments, government policymakers must be
sensitive to the views of different audiences. In risk communication, declining trust is "the
single most important problem undermining government risk communication efforts"
(Covello et al., 1989). Recent studies indicate a general decline of public trust in
government and other social institutions. Reestablishing trust through risk communication
requires a precise understanding of the views of stakeholders. This is especially true for
minorities who, because of greater levels of exposure to environmental risks and concerns
about environmental racism, have more reason for losing trust in government sources of
risk information. Determining whom these groups do trust to provide them with reliable
information about environmental hazards is crucial in establishing responsible and effective
risk communication. This study analyzes the relationship among ethnicity, race, concern
about environmental risk, and group trust. It posits a relationship between risk concern
and institutional trust; specifically, that different ethnic and racial groups vary
systematically in their concern about environmental risk and their institutional repositories
of trust. These differences require significant attention from risk communicators.
Minority Populations Have Higher Levels of Exposure to Environmental Hazards
All individuals are potentially exposed to a large number of environmental hazards.
Hazards surround us all.' Potential environmental threats, such as toxic waste, air
pollution, groundwater contamination, and industrial accidents, concern most individuals.
Although these hazards potentially effect many citizens, racial and ethnic minorities appear
to be consistently exposed to greater levels of environmental pollution and degradation
than whites. This evidence is not conclusive; however, nonwhite groups increasingly
believe that they are disproportionately exposed to these hazards, and act politically on
that belief as the existence of the EJM testifies.
Studies indicate that racial and ethnic minority groups are exposed to more
environmental hazards than other groups.' Some scholars debate whether this higher
1 Even though the public is exposed to myriad hazards, the average person tends to live
longer and enjoy better health than previous generations (Wildavsky, 1979). Regardless
of this trend, the media, and consequently the public, place more attention on risks than in
' Many of these studies are discussed later in the chapter (e.g, United Church of Christ,
exposure is related to race and ethnicity or to income (Been, 1994).3 In either case, it
seems certain that racial and ethnic minorities are exposed in above-average numbers to
environmental pollutants. Because past experiences affect risk, those consistently exposed
to more environmental hazards ought to have different levels of concern about those risks
(Fitchen et al., 1987). The following sections review the major empirical findings about
minority exposure to residential, occupational, and dietary environmental hazards.
Residents of inner urban areas are exposed to higher than acceptable levels of
hazardous environmental pollutants because these areas tend to have "dirtier air and
drinking water, more wastewater and solid-waste problems, and greater exposure to lead
and other heavy metals than nonurban areas" (Kazis and Grossman cited in Bullard, 1993).
Minority populations are concentrated in urban areas. In general, the distribution of racial
and ethnic groups results in disparate exposures to environmental hazards. However,
minorities in rural areas may also be exposed to more hazards than their white
counterparts. Since clear evidence exists about the character of the hazards to which
minorities are routinely exposed in urban areas, the following discussion on residential
exposure draws from three main areas: lead, air pollution, and hazardous waste sites.
Lead levels in blood
Industrial societies expose their citizens to lead in significant quantities. Lead is
widely used in such products as gasoline and paint and it can contaminate air, water, and
soil. By one estimate, present exposure to lead is, on average, 1,000 times greater than in
3 This debate involves environmental justice. Environmental justice is discussed later in
prehistoric times (Schwartz and Levin, 1992). Awareness of lead's ubiquity and harmful
effects led to changes in national air quality regulations. In the past twenty years, tighter
restrictions on leaded gasoline decreased the blood lead levels in the overall population.
However, this improvement is not demographically uniform. Minority populations are still
disproportionately exposed to this harmful pollutant.
The most significant source of exposure continuing to effect minorities more than
other populations is lead paint. The paint on older houses (especially housing built before
1950) tends to have relatively high concentrations of lead. Further, the condition of this
paint is important; dwellings with deteriorating paint pose a greater threat to their
inhabitants than do pristine buildings.4 Most lead exposure originates from lead-
contaminated dust in houses or apartments.
Other sources of lead exposure are relevant to minorities. Minority populations
tend to live in older urban areas where soils have been contaminated by leaded gasoline.
This problem can be mitigated by barriers, such as lawn furniture or patios, that shield
individuals from this contamination. However, minorities in these areas tend to lack such
barriers Nor do household risks end with paint and contaminated soil. Traditional foods,
medicines, cosmetics, and even cooking vessels used by minorities can increase exposure
to lead. Certain occupations pose a greater risk of exposure than others: construction and
automobile repair are particularly dangerous and employ large numbers of minority
workers (Freudenberg, 1984).
' Seventy-five percent of the housing built before 1940 has concentrations of paint lead
higher 2mg/cm2 (this is twice the level defining lead paint). In housing built between 1960
and 1979, only 18 percent of the houses have similarly high levels of lead in their paint.
Generally, housing built after 1980 does not contain lead paint (Schwartz and Levin,
Although lead exposure is widespread, the cumulative effects of this exposure are
greatest on children. Children can suffer brain damage resulting in learning impairment,
behavioral changes, and even death. Children are particularly susceptible to paint exposure
because their hand-to-mouth activity leads to direct ingestion of lead-contaminated dust
and paint chips. Children can also be exposed to lead through soil in their backyards and
the canned foods they eat. Contact with family members, who are exposed to lead in their
occupations, can elevate lead blood levels in children (Schwartz and Levin, 1992).
Although all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups have some children with
unacceptably high levels of lead in their blood, African-American children have higher
percentages of lead in their blood than white children regardless of income level.'
Outdoor air quality, another component of residential exposure to pollutants, has
been the subject of much debate over the last thirty years. Ethnic and racial minorities
concentrate in urban areas where air pollution can be up to five times greater than in
suburban areas (Bullard, 1990). Although living in urban areas increases exposure to air
SThe Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1976-1980) determined
that the average blood level for children under the age of 6 was 16 micrograms of lead per
deciliter of blood 9 (ug/dl) while for African-American children this same measure was 21
ug/dl. For children in the lowest quintile of family income, this figure was 20 ug/dl. The
blood levels for children in the inner city were greater: lower income African-Americans
living in the inner city had average blood levels of 23 ug/dl. In the 1980s, the Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) recommended that children with a blood lead level of 25 ug/dl or
more should be tested to determine if hospitalization was needed (Schwartz and Levin,
1992). In October 1991, the CDC lowered this acceptable blood level to 10 ug/dl
(Phoenix, 1993). Since the greater restrictions on leaded gasoline, the present average
blood level for children is estimated at 6ug/dl, but some scholars hypothesize that there is
still great, if not greater, disparity of these blood levels by race and income (Schwartz and
Levin, 1992). One account reports that the average blood lead level of African-
American children is above 6 ug/dl, and many of these children have above 10 ug/dl of
lead in their blood (Phoenix, 1993).
pollution, there is more to the story than simply an urban versus rural distinction. Other
factors, such as the location of air-polluting facilities in both urban and rural areas, are also
significant determinants of air pollution exposure. One analyst found that between 1970
and 1984 minorities were exposed to significantly more air pollution than were whites
throughout the United States as a whole (Gelobter cited in Bryant and Mohai, 1992)
Overall, aggregate data suggest that African-Americans and Latinos are exposed
to elevated levels of air pollution. The Clean Air Act (1990) mandated that the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establish national ambient air quality standards
for several pollutants including carbon monoxide and ground-level ozone. A recent article
outlining the impact of these pollutants on racial and ethnic populations presents a great
deal of evidence to show that, of those groups examined (African-Americans, Latinos, and
whites), a higher percentage of African-Americans and Latinos live in areas with reduced
air quality than is true of the white population (Wernette and Nieves, 1992). The
distribution of ground-level ozone exemplifies this trend: 52 percent of whites live in
counties with high levels of ozone as opposed to 62 percent for African-Americans and 71
percent for Latinos (Wernette and Nieves, 1992, 16). Similarly, carbon monoxide
exposure also varies with ethnicity and race. In the Northeast census region, 85 percent of
African-Americans and 88 percent of Latinos live in areas with excess of levels of carbon
monoxide as opposed to 50 % of whites (Wernette and Nieves, 1992, 16).
In 1990, of the over 3000 counties and independent cities in the United States, 437
did not meet one or more of the EPA's ambient air quality standards. A disproportionate
number of minority and poor people lived in these substandard areas (Wernette and
Nieves, 1992). Moreover, the percentage of poor people in cities or counties with
substandard air quality standards fell below that of the racial and ethnic minority
populations. Income does not completely explain the concentrations of minority
populations in poor air-quality areas (Wernette and Nieves, 1992).6
The main sources of air pollutants are unevenly distributed over the United States.
The majority of air-polluting facilities are concentrated in the South, a region with a high
percentage of African-Americans relative to the rest of the country.' Furthermore, 63
percent of these facilities are in urban counties of which twelve percent have greater than
31 percent of minorities. These counties with a third or more minority population contain
21 percent of all air-polluting facilities in the South. Therefore, air-polluting facilities are
concentrated in counties with high percentages of minorities (Wernette and Nieves, 1992,
17). In sum, minority populations are exposed to higher levels of air pollution than the
Hazardous waste facilities
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that between 20 and 40
million citizens live within four miles of the nation's worst hazardous waste sites (Breslin,
1993, 484). These sites are listed on the National Priority List (NPL). On the NPL, the
EPA designates the worst sites for cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as "Superfund."
While this may look like a good start, as many as 36,000 other sites, not listed on the
NPL, may be harmful to citizens (Breslin, 1993, 484). Studies of the distribution of NPL
6 See Wernette and Nieves for the percentage of population groups living where air quality
standards are not met (1992, 17).
7 Approximately half of the almost 3000 major air-polluting facilities are located in the
South. The region with the penultimate number of these facilities is the North Central
region, followed by the West and Northeast regions (Wernette and Nieves, 1992).
and other hazardous waste sites reach varied conclusions as to whether minorities are
disproportionately exposed to hazardous waste facilities [General Accounting Office
(GAO), 1995]. A few studies find no significant relationship between the location of
hazardous waste sites and minority populations (e.g., Claritas, Inc. for Waste
Management, Inc., 1992; Zimmerman, for EPA's Region II, 1994 both cited in GAO,
1995).' Other studies are inconclusive (e.g., Zimmerman, 1993; ICF Inc., and ViGYAN,
Inc., for EPA, 1994 both cited in GAO, 1995).9
The debate continues, but most studies reveal a disproportionately high degree of
minority population exposure to hazardous waste facilities. A 1983 General Accounting
Office (GAO) report on hazardous landfills in the southeast found that three of every four
off-site landfills, designated by states for disposal of hazardous wastes, were sited in
predominately African-American or low-income communities.1, In the areas studied,
African-Americans comprised approximately 20% of the population, but 75% of the
landfills were located in African-American communities. In all four of these southeast
communities, at least 26% of the population had incomes below the poverty level. One
site assessed by the GAO in Sumter County, Alabama, is the largest landfill in the nation.
Almost 70% of the residents of Sumter County are black and 96% live below the poverty
line (GAO Report, 1983). Later studies confirm the GAO report: in 1992, African-
Americans still made up approximately one-fifth of the population, but the southeast
Many of these studies tend to be industry sponsored.
9 See Appendix A for a summary of these and other demographic studies.
"' The report looked at the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 4 comprising:
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and
region's only two operating off-site commercial hazardous waste landfills were situated in
areas where African-Americans formed a majority of the population (Bullard, 1992, 12).
In 1987, the United Church of Christ (UCC) Commission for Racial Justice studied
the racial and socioeconomic makeup of citizens residing in areas around uncontrolled
hazardous waste sites (unregulated dumps and abandoned production operations) as well
as commercial hazardous waste sites. The Commission's report maintains that race or
ethnicity, not income, is the most significant variable in siting hazardous waste facilities
The UCC report confirms the ongoing relationship between minority status and
elevated minority exposure to environmental contaminants. According to the study, three
of every five African-Americans reside in communities with abandoned toxic waste sites.
Fifteen million African-Americans and eight million Latinos live in communities with
uncontrolled toxic waste sites. Two million Asian and Pacific Islanders and 700,000
Native Americans reside in communities with similar sites (Mushak, 1993, 478). Three of
the five largest commercial landfills are located in predominately African-American or
Latino communities. In 1986, these five landfills accounted for 40 percent of the
country's total estimated landfill capacity. Cities with the most abandoned toxic waste
sites--Atlanta, Chicago, and St. Louis--have populations with high concentrations of
African-Americans (Bullard, 1992). A 1994 report, conducted by the Center for Policy
Alternatives, updated the UCC study and reaffirms that minority populations are far more
likely to live near hazardous waste facilities than are their white counterparts (cited in
Other national and state level studies find strong evidence of unequal minority
exposure to hazardous waste sites. A Greenpeace-sponsored report specifically looks at
hazardous waste incinerators: Playing with Fire (1990) demonstrates that communities
with such incinerators have populations with 89 percent more minorities than the national
average (cited in Bullard, 1992, 12). Several of these studies focus on superfund sites (or
those sites listed on the NPL). On the national level, John Hird's 1993 study of 814
superfund sites indicates that a disproportionately high number of racial minorities reside
in counties containing these sites (cited in GAO, 1995)." Information provided by the
EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) on potential sources of hazardous materials is
useful in studying minority exposure to toxic waste. At the state level, Philip H. Pollock,
III and M. Elliot Vittas (1995) use TRI data to correlate industrial toxic releases and
potential pollution exposure with Florida's demographic characteristics. They conclude
that Florida's racial and ethnic minorities, and especially African-Americans, live closer to
sources of potential toxic exposure than do white Floridians.
Consistently high levels of minority exposure to environmental hazards also
characterize certain occupations--particularly, migrant farm work, uranium mining, and
industrial work. These occupations have greater than average proportions of racial and
ethnic minority workers.
" This study did not include ethnicity; Latinos were not delineated. This study is cited in
Migrant farm workers
According to Ivette Perfecto (Perfecto, 1992) documenting the link between
pesticides and farm worker health is difficult because most problems go untreated and, if
treated, underreported. Public concern over the dangers posed by pesticides to habitat and
wildlife, generated, in part, by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), broadened in recent
years and now incorporates an awareness of pesticides' impact on migrant farm
workers.2 Exacerbating the problems facing these workers, such federal laws as the
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) exclude migrant farm workers.
In the United States, agriculture is the largest single user of pesticides (80 percent
of total use). More than one billion pounds of fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides fall
on the United States each year. There are 600 active ingredients in these pesticides; the
EPA has given safety approval for six. Combining active ingredients with inert ones
creates approximately 35,000 different commercial compositions. Scientists have analyzed
the health effects of less than 10 percent of these compositions for health effects (Perfecto,
1992). Often the inert ingredients, in combination with the active ingredients, become as,
or more, toxic than the active ingredients alone. Inert ingredients are not regulated under
the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); the public has no right
to know what these ingredients are, even if an individual is poisoned (Moses cited in
Bullard, 1993). One report estimates that over 300,000 farm workers suffer from illness
related to pesticide use annually (Pollack and Grozuczak cited in Perfecto, 1992).
Another source claims that 800 to 1000 farm workers die in America as a result of
exposure to pesticides each year (Pollack and Grozuczak cited in Perfecto, 1992).
12 A migrant farm worker's life expectancy is 49 years; his or her average income, a scant
6,000 per year (Perfecto, 1992, 184).
Again, children are at great risk Although children may or may not work in the
fields, parents often bring their children to work in the absence ofchildcare Unborn
children are exposed to toxins when their pregnant mothers work in the fields Even
when children do not go into the fields, they are still exposed to pesticide residues on
family members' workclothes and contaminated soil on shoes. Furthermore, many
laborers live near the fields upon which pesticides are sprayed; these individuals risk
exposure to drifting chemicals in the air, on the ground, or in the water table (Moses,
1993). Many times these workers live near the fields and their drinking water may be
contaminated. In 1991, the EPA found 191 water violations in the water systems serving
farm workers (Cushman, 1992, C4).
One study maintains that 90 percent of the United States' two million hired farm
workers are from ethnic or racial minorities. The majority are Chicanos. The rest of these
minority workers are almost all Caribbean blacks and African-Americans (Perfecto and
Velazquez, 1992). A 1990 Department of Labor national survey found that 77 percent of
farm workers identified themselves with racial or ethnic minority groups (Mines et al.,
1991 cited in Moses, 1993)." Ninety percent of the agricultural workforce in California is
Latino of Mexican origin (Martin et al., 1985 cited in Moses, 1993). Although
" Of this 77 percent, two-thirds were born in a country other than the United States. Ninety-
two percent were born in Mexico while the rest of the sample were born in another Latino
country (four percent), Asia (three percent), or the Caribbean (one percent). Ofthe one-third
born in the United States, 34 percent were Latino, five percent were African-American, and
one percent were from other ethnic groups such as Native Americans or Asians. The rest of
the sample was composed of whites ofnon-Latino descent (Mines et al., 1991 cited in Moses,
conclusions differ about the exact number of racial and ethnic minorities employed in
farming, clearly they comprise the majority of farm laborers."
No extensive study assesses the extent of pesticide exposure for farm workers, but
some evidence suggests that workers exposed to pesticides have an above average
incidence of many acute conditions, including chemical bums, cancer, sterility, birth
defects. Their death rates is above average too (Moses, 1993, 166)."
The mining and milling of uranium ore generates large amounts of radioactive and
hazardous wastes called "mine and mill tailings" (Robinson, 1992). Large uranium
reserves are on four Confederate Tribal Lands, the largest of which belongs to the Navajo
Nation (Robinson, 1992). Presently, industry deposits the bulk of the United States'
radioactive uranium tailings on Native American land.
Health statistics testify to the Navajo Indian population's high level of exposure to
uranium and its byproducts. Sixty percent of those employed on-reservation work at
occupations related to uranium mining (Jorgensen, 1978 cited in Vaughan and
Nordenstam, 1991). Miners are exposed to radioactive gas which at least one study
determined to be carcinogenic (Brodine, 1973 cited in Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991).
Mining uranium ore probably lies behind the rate of lung cancer mortality among the
Navajo population." Furthermore, in 1981, the Navajo Health Authority found that
4 It is difficult to determine the distribution of the farm worker population because some of
these workers are illegal aliens.
The length of time between exposure and the development of a chronic health condition--or
clinical latency--can be 10 or more years (Moses, 1993). Studies of this length are especially
problematic when researching migrant populations.
According to one estimate, uranium miners are ten times more likely than other individuals
to die from lung cancer (Freudenberg, 1984, 23).
reproductive organ cancer rates for Navajo teenagers living near uranium mining sites
were 17 times the national average (cited in Wheale, 1993, 5).
Several industrial occupations with above average rates illness and injury--
including fabric milling, hospital orderlies and attendants, laundry and dry-cleaning work,
service industries, smelting, and tobacco manufacturing--have a disproportionate number
of African-American employees (Wright, 1992, 124). These occupations all have the
potential to expose workers to environmental hazards. Data concerning industrial worker
exposure to environmental hazards show that an African-American suffers a 37 percent
greater chance of occupational illness or injury than a white worker and has a 20 percent
greater chance of dying from occupational injury or disease.
Other minorities also labor in occupations which expose individuals to high levels
of environmental hazards. Asian-American and Latino women comprise a high proportion
of workers in the garment industry. Because of poor ventilation at their worksites, these
individuals are routinely exposed to chemical solvents and thick dust in, what observers
labeled, modem day sweatshops (Freudenberg, 1984; Branigin, 1997).
Minorities can also encounter higher than average pollution levels in their diets.
Native Americans consume disproportionately high quantities of fish for subsistence as
well as cultural reasons. This consumption rate places Native Americans, at least in the
areas studied, at high risk of dietary exposure to toxic chemicals (West, 1992, 15)." In the
~7 Northern tribes, like those in the Great Lakes area, have been given greater attention to
date. There is little evidence about Native American consumption of fish in other regions
in the United States.
Great Lakes area, Native Americans ingest fish containing high levels of PCBs (West,
1992, 16). In the Pacific Northwest, the EPA is studying four Native American tribes to
determine the effects of exposure to industrial contaminants stored in the fatty tissues of
the fish that those tribes consume (Cushman, 1992, C4).
Other minorities eat more contaminated fish than do the general public. A study
conducted in Detroit, Michigan finds that nonwhites, the majority of whom are African-
Americans, on average consume more fish from the polluted Detroit River than do whites
(West, 1992). A statewide study of Michigan fishermen and their families finds similar
trends. In the Michigan study, African-Americans consume more contaminated fish than
do whites, but Native Americans eat more fish than do African-Americans.
As discussed earlier, farm workers, the majority of whom are Latino, are at
danger from their drinking water, but Native Americans are also at risk. In an Americans
for Indian Opportunity (AIO) survey, participants form the 48 Native American tribes in
the survey cited water quality as their leading environmental concern. Sixty-five percent
of the respondents depend solely upon groundwater for their water supply while 31% rely
upon a combination of surface and groundwater. Tribes report outbreaks of waterborne
disease on nine reservations and violations of EPA drinking water standards on 17
reservations. Because most individual water systems are not monitored, other similar
problems elsewhere are underreported (Wenzel, 1992, 5)
The above evidence strongly suggests that racial and ethnic minorities in the
United States are exposed to disproportionately high levels of environmental pollution and
hazards. Controlling for income levels, studies of the siting of hazardous waste facilities
find minorities frequently exposed to more of these hazards than the population at large.
Explanations for these phenomena range from economics to social prejudice with a
combination of the two. Although it is beyond the scope of this study to fully explore
these explanations, the reality appears to be that environmental pollution is a fact of life
where minorities live, where they work, and in what they consume to a greater degree
than pollution effects the bulk of the white population.
Minorities' Risk Perceptions: Could They Differ from Other Citizens' Perceptions?
Risk Perception: Theories and General Findings
Risk is involved with every aspect of life; how individuals perceive risks matters to
the psychological, physical, and social well-being of all people. As noted in Chapter 1,
most individuals rely on risk perceptions or "intuitive risk judgments," not sophisticated
technological or scientific analyses, to make sense of the risks to which they are exposed
(Slovic, 1987, 280). Why are these risk concerns important? The most obvious political
reasons are that policymakers must understand citizens' concern about risks to
communicate effectively information about hazards and to create policies that are
responsive to public concerns. This latter task is problematized by the climate of public
distrust toward government risk communicators. The significant questions here concern
ethnic and racial minorities. As members of apparently disproportionately exposed
populations, do minorities respond in distinctive ways to hazards? Also, what kinds of
differences might be considered typical?
Many scholars debate the definition of"risk" (e.g., Fischhoffet al., 1990). The
standard econometric definition of risk is "the product of the probability and utility of
somefuture event" (Adams, 1995, 30). Some individuals conceive of risk in two
dimensions: objective and perceived (or "subjective") (Royal Society for the Prevention of
Accidents, 1983). Experts determine objective risk; laypersons or the public, perceived
risk. Perceptions have significance in determining political behavior. Perceptions often
matter as much as reality.
Those who would with define risk are generally frustrated in their attempts to
distinguish between objective and perceived risk; the boundaries between these two
concepts are not clear. Efforts to measure risk generate controversy." Scholars argue
that there is no way to "objectively" measure risk because "within the philosophy of
science, 'objective' typically means something akin to 'independent of the observer"'
(Fischhoffet al., 1990, 31). Experts may be informed observers, but even so they still
operate with some level of subjectivity (e.g., Fischhoff, et al., 1981). Increasingly,
researchers utilize the concept of perceived risk to overcome the uncertainty inherent in
Risk perception theories
Although many studies address differences between expert and lay risk perceptions
(e.g., Flynn et al., 1993), most studies exploring public concerns fail to address variations
in concern about environmental risk within the lay population. The social diversity of
America's population implicitly suggests group differences in risk perception, yet
researchers seldom explore in any detail the empirical basis of such variability (Vaughan
and Nordenstam, 1991). Still, the main scholarly assumptions about risk perception rest
on a wide range of plausible theories and empirical findings. This research assumes that
" See Fischhoffet al., 1990 for a description of this debate.
these theories and findings are not mutually exclusive, but rather are complementary and
interrelated. One way to simplify both theory and finding is to group them into two
categories: namely, psychological research and cultural (or social) research. Most
discussions of risk perception are rooted in psychological research. Cultural and social
research is a newer way of looking at risk perception. Although this study recognizes the
importance of both psychological and cultural theories (Covello and Johnson, 1987), the
emphasis here is upon social and cultural factors in environmental risk concerns.
The psychological or cognitive lens. The majority of evidence and theory about
perceived risk emerges from the psychometric paradigm. This paradigm utilizes
quantitative evidence obtained from psychological scaling and multivariate analysis to
create "cognitive maps" of risk perceptions (Slovic, 1987, 280-281).'9 Scholars using this
paradigm stress that different aspects and meanings of risk are important to different
individuals or groups based on such influences as the perceived catastrophic potential of
risks and one's vulnerability to hazards (e.g., Slovic et al., 1985).
Psychological researchers have identified variability in risk perceptions. Several
scholars argue that women and men differ in their environmental risk.2" Many studies
document differences between expert and lay persons' (or those not involved in scientific
careers) perception of risk (Fischhoffet al., 1981, Flynn et al., 1993).21 Furthermore,
'9 Both revealed and expressed preference approaches have emerged from this paradigm.
Where Chauncey Starr (1969) focused on "revealed preferences," Others (e.g., Slovic et
al., 1985; DeLuca et al. in Covello, 1986) studied risk by looking at "expressed
20 See Davidson and Freudenberg, 1996 for a recent review of this evidence.
21 Fischhoffet al. (1981) outline five reasons why the public and experts disagree about
risks. First, the distinction between "actual" and "perceived" risks is misconceived by the
public and experts because there is no certainty that risks can be absolutely defined.
Second and third, lay persons and experts talk different "languages" and solve different
Susan Hadden and others argue that the "public's understanding of risk is both rational
and richer than the noting of risk embodied in most scientific risk assessments" (Hadden,
1991, 48; also see Slovic, 1987). Risk means more to the public than mere summary
statistics like expected rates of mortality or numbers of working days lost. A lay person's
"basic conceptualization of risk is much richer than that of the experts and reflects
legitimate concerns that are typically omitted from expert risk assessments" (Slovic, 1987,
Vincent T. Covello and Branden B. Johnson (1987) summarize four main findings
in the psychological research. First, individuals overestimate the risks involved with
particularly visible or memorable events like airplane accidents. Clearly, the media's
coverage of such disasters focuses attention on such events: two airplane incidents in
1996--a ValueJet and a TWA crash--spark substantial fear in many individuals, but the
statistical likelihood of being in an airplane crash is actually one in 11 million (Triola,
1992). The public tendency toward overreaction is apparent in public perceptions of
environmental risks, particularly from nuclear facilities. Generally, citizens overestimate
the risk of nuclear accidents. Media attention given to accidents such as those at Love
Canal and Chernobyl partially explain this public overreaction. Researchers have
documented broad differences of opinion within the public about such accidents. For
example, Ian Savage finds that African-Americans tend to have greater than average levels
of trepidation about aviation as well as automobile accidents than whites (Savage, 1993).
problems. Fourth, debates can disguise the actual risks. Finally lay persons and experts
disagree about what is feasible. Although the authors examined disagreements about
nuclear power, many of these reasons appear to cross-cut specific issues.
Second, the lay public has difficulty interpreting and comprehending statistically
probabilities measuring risks. This is especially true when information concerns small or
unfamiliar risks, but experts also have difficulty interpreting probabilistic information, even
though their knowledge can clarify some of these data (Fischhoff et al., 1990).
Third, the manner in which risk communicators present information can strongly
influence risk perceptions, concerns, and selection. Psychological research shows that the
way information sources, such as policymakers or the media, frame questions and issues
can influence individual's views and choices of options (Tversky and Kahnemann, 1987;
Kasperson et al., 1988). According to Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnemann, "framing
the consequences of a public policy in positive or in negative terms can greatly alter its
appeal" (77). By characterizing the siting of hazardous waste facilities or a cement plants
as creators of jobs rather than a pollution source, politicians or industry spokespersons can
alter the public's view of a potential facility.
Finally, individuals consider several qualitative factors when assessing the
seriousness of a risk Factors such as the risk's catastrophic potential, the assessor's
dread of hazards, and his or her personal vulnerability to the threat substantially effect risk
perceptions. Risk can have different meanings to different individuals. Factor analysis has
helped identify three main dimensions of risk: dread, unknown, and personal or societal.
Based upon the William Lowrance's (1976) original suggestion of nine dimensions of risk,
Paul Slovic, Baruch Fischhoff, and Sarah Lichtenstein (1985) used a principal components
factor analysis to identify three central dimensions of risk The first two factors can be
thought of as continuums. Slovic (1987) and lan Savage (1993) each provide their own
definitions of these factors or concepts Dread risk is defined "at its high ... end by
perceived lack of control, dread, catastrophic potential, fatal consequences, and the
inequitable distribution of risks and benefits" (Slovic, 1987, 283). lan Savage describes
dread risk as when "people appear to have a great 'dread' of a hazard when it is
catastrophic; if death is a long drawn-out event (e.g., cancer); if victims are exposed to the
hazard involuntarily; and if when exposed to the hazard, the victim cannot by personal skill
or diligence avoid harm" (Savage, 1993, 414). Unknown risk is defined "at its high end by
hazards judged to be unobservable, unknown, new, and delayed in their manifestation of
harm" (Slovic, 1987, 283). Savage describes this type of risk as when "victims may not
observe the hazard when it occurs, [do] not personally know the risk, or the ... probability
or consequences of the hazard are not know to scientists" (Savage, 1993, 414). Societal
or personal exposure risk "reflect...[s] the number of people exposed to the risk" (Slovic,
1987, 283). Savage describes personal exposure risk as representingn] the relevance of
the hazard to the lives of individual respondents" (Savage 1993, 414). The dread risk
factor seemed to be most closely related to laypersons' risk perception (possibility of
death resulting from an activity or hazard), risk adjustment (the determination of
acceptable risk), and desired regulation (the judgment of how much regulation should
exist in comparison with how much does). These psychological findings about risk
substantially influence how officials and experts relay information to citizens.
The social and cultural lens. Studies documenting differences between experts and
the public suggest that public concern over environmental risk varies. During the past
two decades, the work of Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky has made scholars more
attentive to the cultural and social aspects of risk perception. Douglas and Wildavsky
argue that people assess risks on the basis of the threat they pose to cherished values and
beliefs. People do not focus on risks "simply ... to protect health, safety, or the
environment The choice reflects [a society's] beliefs about values, social institutions,
nature, and moral behavior. Risks are exaggerated or minimized according to the social,
cultural, and moral acceptability of the underlying activities" (Covello and Johnson, 1987,
viii). Understanding risks in this way moves scholars beyond assessing the rationality of
individual self-interest and is especially useful when studying different societies or cultures
and, more specifically, in studying differing cultural groups within a society. For
slipping and falling on the ice ... is a game for young children, but a potentially
fatal accident for an old person. And the probability of such an event is influenced
both by person's perception of the probability, and by whether they see it as fun or
dangerous. For example, because old people see the risk of slipping on an icy road
to be high, they take avoiding action, thereby reducing the probability. Young
people slipping on and sliding on the ice, and old people striving to do the same,
belong to separate and distinct cultures. They construct reality out of their
experience of it. They see the world differently and behave differently; they tend to
associate with kindred spirits, who reinforce their distinctive perspectives on reality
in general and risk in particular. (Adams, 1995, 9)
Age is not the only variable that influences a group's or an individual's construction of
reality and risk. Although some fragmentary, tentative evidence suggests the public
perceptions of risk and environmental concerns relate to such social and cultural variables,
as race, ethnicity, and gender (e.g. Vaughan, 1995a; Vaughan, 1995b), more study is
needed. Scholars have not carefully documented or explicated risk perception differences
among distinct ethnic and racial groups "because few systematic and detailed studies have
been conducted on environmental risk perceptions and ethnicity, available data only allow
for speculations as to how variations in the relationship between ethnicity and judgments
have been summarized previously" (Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991, 51). A greater
understanding of the social and cultural aspects of risk is needed, but this does not
diminish the importance of psychological or cognitive variables. Individuals view risk
through their own psychological lenses; the relevance of this cannot be understated. The
present analyst seeks to enrich and amplify the research on attitudes about risk by
exploring in greater detail and social breadth how different ethnic and racial groups view
This Study's Approach
Scholars need to bridge the gap between psychological and socio-cultural
perspectives. Researchers have long recognized that any discussion of social and cultural
factors--including interactions among individual families, communities, and the
relationships between individuals and institutions--is missing from the psychological
literature (Covello and Johnson, 1987).
The data used in this study are aptly suited to exploring the social and cultural
aspects of concern about environmental risk. Indeed, if psychological variables alone
could explain risk perception and concern about environmental risk, one would not
observe systematic intergroup differences (e.g., race or ethnicity-based differences) among
the focus groups. The present research examines how disproportionate levels of hazard
exposure affect these groups. By exploring social and cultural variation among minority
populations, this research advances our understanding of the effect that race and ethnicity
can have in constructing attitudes about environmental risk related to public policy and
their relevance to making such policy.
Minorities' Risk Perceptions: Do They Differ from Other Citizens' Perceptions?
Empirical Findings on Minority Risk Perception
Several studies provide evidence that ethnicity and race significantly affect
attitudes about risk; however their results are difficult to interpret because of
methodological inconsistencies and limitations.22 For the most part, researchers derive
evidence concerning minority risk perceptions from survey research. Most of these
studies find differences in risk perceptions by minority status, but there is no consensus
about the level of environmental concern expressed by different racial and ethnic groups.
Higher Levels of Concern About Environmental Risk
Recent studies tend to include demographic variables in their models of risk
perception (e.g., Desvousges, et al., 1993).2 Studies that control for income and
educational variables are particularly salient to the present research. Two of these studies
already discussed in this dissertation find race and/or ethnicity to be significant in
explaining variations in risk perception.24 lan Savage (1993) incorporates several
demographic variables in his model explaining dreading hazards. The variables with the
best explanatory value for "dread risk" were race, level of education, age, and gender.2
22 For a comprehensive review of these studies, see Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991.
The study by Desvousges et al.study (1993), "Perceived Risk and Attitudes Toward
Nuclear Wastes: National and Nevada Perspectives," included both a Nevada and a
national sample. Nonwhites tended to view repository risks as more serious than whites,
even when controlling for income, in the national sample. Interestingly, the same pattern
is not seen in the Nevada sample where race is not significant in explaining perception.
Education was also significant in the national sample, but not in the Nevada sample. In
the national sample, the more years of schooling an individual had the lower his or her risk
perception. In effect, education could be collinear with income.
24 See lan Savage (1993) and James Flynn, Paul Slovic and C.K. Mertz's (1994) survey
25 Savage also looks at two other risk factors: whether the risk is known and personal
exposure to the risk. The findings relating to these factors did not find the same
significance as that for the dread factor.
Individuals who were African-American, younger, female, or less educated exhibited the
highest levels of dread risk.
James Flynn, Paul Slovic, and C.K Mertz's 1994 study validates Savage's findings
that race consistently affects risk perception. Moreover, Flynn and his colleagues examine
the attitudes of"nonwhites" (Latinos, blacks, Asians, and American Indians) while Savage
included only African-Americans. Although Savage looks at several types of general
risks, Flynn concentrates specifically on environmental health risks and concludes that
nonwhites are especially concerned about pollution from chemical and nuclear wastes.
Other studies find that racial and ethnic minorities have greater levels of fear about
technological or environmental hazards than do whites. Two of these studies discover a
"white male effect" where those "likely to see themselves as the beneficiaries of a
technological society (white, higher-income, better-educated males)" have lower levels of
concern than white females or nonwhites (Pilisuk and Acredolo, 1988, 22; Flynn et al,
1994). One explanation for this lower level of concern is related to "trust in institutions
and authorities and a disinclination toward giving decision-making power to citizens in
areas of risk management" (Flynn et al., 1994, 1106). This empirical evidence confirms
both minority and majority variation in risk perception.
Lower Levels of Concern About Environmental Risk
Findings from other studies suggest minorities have lower levels of concern about
environmental risks than the bulk of the population. Elaine Vaughan argues that a sense
of personal control affects the ways that different ethnic and racial minorities perceive
risks (Vaughan, 1993; Vaughan, 1995a). Minority populations with less personal control
over the risks to which they are exposed tend to deny these risks: in a study of male,
mostly Mexican immigrant farm workers in California, Vaughan finds that those workers
who thought they had no other employment options discounted exposure to pesticides,
reported fewer self-protective measures, and believed that they had less control over
adverse pesticide-related health effects than the rest of the population (1995a).
Variation in Levels of Concern About Environmental Risk
Yet, another study documents differences in perceptions among ethnic groups
(specifically, blacks, Anglos, and Mexican-Americans). Ralph H. Turner and K. Jill
Kiecolt hypothesize that variability exists among ethnic and racial groups in regard to
fatalism and certain risks (Turner and Kiecolt, 1984). These researchers predict that
blacks and Mexican-Americans are more fatalistic about earthquakes than Anglos, but
their data show that this is not the case. Although blacks are considerably more fatalistic
about such hazards, and Mexican-Americans have similar levels of fatalism to Anglos.
When age and stratification are controlled, Mexican-Americans actually are less fatalistic
than the Anglos. Turner and Kiecolt offer a social and cultural explanation for these
findings. They maintain that Mexican-Americans do not have the same "cultural lens" as
blacks (Turner and Kiecolt, 1984, 677).26
Limitations of Previous Studies
Scholars identify several difficulties in determining variations in risk perceptions as
they relate to ethnicity and race. Some of these difficulties reflect the methods chosen to
26 Turner and Kiecolt also look at the "social class hypothesis" and the "discrimination
hypothesis." The social class hypothesis argues that social class, not minority status, is
responsible for the disadvantages that some minorities face. The discrimination hypothesis
proposes that prejudice and institutionalized discrimination is responsible for minority
disadvantage. These authors tend to agree more with the "cultural lens" explanation.
measure these perceptions, others have to do with operationalization, and still others
concern levels of specificity. Vaughan and Nordenstam (1991) outline three main
methodological shortcomings that could explain inconsistencies in the findings about
ethnic and racial minority risk perception. First, the operationalization and measurement
of "risk perception" or "environmental concern" varies across studies, thereby making
generalizations impossible. Some studies use self-reported attitudinal measures to assess
risk perception or environmental concern (e.g., Turner and Kiecolt, 1984); others employ
behavioral measures such as involvement in environmental groups to study these concepts
(e.g., Taylor, 1989). Some studies using self-reported attitudinal measures tend to find
nonwhites to be more concerned about environmental risk than are whites: studies
employing behavioral measures generally indicate that minorities are less concerned about
environmental risk than are whites (Vaughan and Nordenstam, 1991).
Second, researchers measure risk perception with different levels of specificity.
Flynn's study finds that nonwhites greatly differ on their perceptions of risks depending
upon the hazard; they tend to be more concerned about pollution from chemical and
nuclear wastes than about ozone depletion (Flynn et al., 1994, 1105). Many studies have
a problem with their level of specificity and tend to group all "nonwhites" together. As
Turner and Keicolt (1984) indicate, there may be considerable variation in the perceptions
of different ethnic and racial groups. Lumping all nonwhite groups in one category glosses
over important cognitive and cultural differences.
Third, there may be an association between socioeconomic status and risk
perception. It is also likely that socioeconomic status and race and ethnicity are
correlated. Some scholars argue that, in effect, education level or other socioeconomic27
factors are more important than race or ethnicity in explaining exposure to and perception
of risk.2' Rather than viewing education or income as rival explanatory variables to race
or ethnicity, race and ethnicity can be explored keeping in mind the possible effect of
socioeconomic status. It is the view of the present author that the costs outweigh the
benefits of disaggregating socioeconomic status and race and ethnicity.29
The survey research approach that predominates in risk perception study has
several methodological limitations. Telephone surveys are inherently limited in gaining
information about minority perceptions of environmental risk; some surveys have low
minority response rates and are hindered by an absence of phones in many low-income
households (Lavrakas, 1993). Flynn and his colleagues' study's (1994) response rate is
comparatively good, but still only 50.7%. Additionally, their sample size is not large
enough to disaggregate the nonwhite category. Savage's study (1993) only looks at race
(African-Americans vs. whites). There are other problems in these studies. For instance,
those in the Flynn study were nonwhite English speakers indicating that the minorities
interviewed were not representative of many nonwhites in the United States. 30
Beyond methodological problems, there are other disadvantages to the survey
research approach. The lack of spontaneity in questions and lack of richness and
ingeniousness in response mitigates against in-depth understanding of complex
7 In particular, income.
28 See Been, 1994 and GAO, 1995
29 See Chapter 4.
30 Flynn et al. acknowledge that it is problematic to interview only English-speaking
relationships such as those addressed by the present study. The survey researcher dictates
the asking of questions and definition of phenomena are defined; this
inhibits respondents from expressing how and why they think as they do. Assessing
public opinion and concern requires more than simple responses.
Addressing Previous Methodological and General Limitations
The nature of the data and the method of analysis used in this study alleviates many
problems. Focus group data eliminates the problem of imposing a specific
operationalization of risk perception or environmental concern onto the subjects, as that
survey research tends to do. The focus group format allows respondents to develop and
explain their views about risk and the environment. Furthermore, problems associated
with grouping minorities together are alleviated because of the specific structure of the
focus groups (which were broken down by race and ethnicity).
Environmental Racism Indicates Differentiation in Risk Perception
and Trust Among Ethnic and Racial Groups
Often, variations in social attitudes about risk are the source of individual, group,
and community political activity: grassroots organizations in the Environmental Justice
Movement (EJM) typify political groups that formed because their members perceived
that they were exposed to greater environmental risks than the bulk of the population.
Members of the EJM contend that the mainstream environmental movement and most
local politicians are incapable of representing their interests. Policymakers need to take
these grassroots groups into account precisely because their members feel that they are
being discriminated against on many levels, including environmentally. The EJM is
" See Chapter 3.
significant in understanding the political manifestation of minority group-based distinctions
in concern about environmental risk and trust (or lack of trust) in risk communicators.
As discussed earlier, several studies indicate that minorities are regularly exposed
to more environmental hazards than are whites. Concomitantly, risk perception theories
suggest that different groups vary in their views about environmental hazards or risk. A
key factor, specific to minority concern about environmental risk, is the concept of
environmental racism. Risk perception studies focused on minorities often include such
variables related to socioeconomic status such as income and education. Differences in
risk perception by race and/or ethnicity exist even when controlling for these other
variables (e.g., Desvousges et al.; Flynn et al., 1994; Savage, 1993). The purpose of the
present project is not to disaggregate income or education from race/ethnicity. The
explanatory value of race/ethnicity--controlling for income and education--in previous
survey research models indicates that race/ethnicity is a variable that needs to be examined
in greater detail. Much of the evidence and findings discussed in earlier sections of this
chapter support the concept of environmental racism.
What Is Environmental Racism?
Scholars from many fields have recently started to study environmental equity and
environmental racism." Although researchers have given more attention to environmental
racism in the last few years, protests about and references to environmental racism have
been in existence for over a decade. According to an Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) Report, environmental equity is "the distribution of environmental risks across
population groups and.., policy responses to these distributions" (United States
" For example, see Bullard, 1990.
Environmental Protection Agency, 1992, 2). When these risks are not evenly distributed,
stakeholders question the existence of environmental justice. Environmental racism is
present when the unequal distribution of environmental risks can be attributed to prejudice
or discrimination against ethnic or racial minorities.
Studies by the UCC Commission for Racial Justice (1987) and the Center for
Policy Alternatives (1994) both conclude that the most significant variable in siting
hazardous waste facilities nationwide is race and ethnicity. Other studies find a direct
relationship between race/ethnicity and the scope of government action in enforcing
regulations (e.g., Lavelle and Coyle, 1992). Marianne Lavelle and Marcia Coyle
demonstrate that hazardous waste laws are more stringently enforced in white
communities, and officials take 20 percent longer to place minority communities on the
priority list for Superfund cleanup. Furthermore, stiffer cleanup penalties face polluters of
white neighborhood sites than those facing polluters of nonwhite sites (Lavelle and Coyle,
The Environmental Justice Movement
This evidence of disproportionate exposure by race and/or ethnicity and the Not in
Anyone's Backyard (NIABY) phenomenon--where all individuals (regardless of race or
class) resist increased pollution--led to a new kind of environmental movement. The
EJM's aims to combat environmental racism. The EJM concentrates on social justice, and
some scholars describe it as an extension of the civil right movement (e.g., Bullard,
1990)." The EJM incorporates ideas and strategies from both the civil rights and the
mainstream environmental movements.
The organizations and protests associated with the EJM concentrate on cleaning
up past and present environmental degradation as well as the siting of LULUs (Locally
Unwanted Land Uses). The purpose and origins of the EJM highlight the political
dimension of the conflict over exposure to environmental risk and indicate minority
interest and concern with this conflict.
The EJM: Organized Against Environmental Racism
Some of the groups involved with the EJM illustrate its main goals, motivations,
issues, and participants. African-Americans in Savannah, Georgia formed Citizens for
Environmental Justice to demand the permanent closure of the Savannah River Site
nuclear plant after it leaked radioactive tritium into the Savannah River late in 1991. The
group now focuses on other inequities such as the building of African-American Chatham
County neighborhoods on dump sites. Dr. Mildred McClain, the group's founder,
considered joining a predominately white environmental organization, but decided that
"blacks tend to get lost in the mix in the white groups. I wanted a group that could focus
specifically on issues that relate to the black community" (Davis, 1992, D4).
Another organization in the EJM--the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental
Justice--is one of the most visible and largest minority organizations to date. The goal of
this coalition of over 2000 African-Americans and Latinos for the soil to be cleaned up at
a lead smelter site that closed in 1984 after 55 years of operation Lawsuits filed by the
3 Like the Civil Rights Movement, the Environmental Justice Movement started in the
southern United States.
coalition against local, state, and federal agencies claimed that hundreds of local citizens
suffer from lead poisoning. The coalition maintains that discrimination in housing, land
use, health and environmental-cleanup policies is directly responsible for the poisoning
(Suro, 1993, B7).
Opposition to proposed Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) often spark
organizational efforts. The response of many middle-class communities to the siting of
LULUs is the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon, but these movements seldom
address themselves to the backyards where the polluting industries and hazardous waste
facilities are eventually transported or sited. Many residents of low-income communities
are desperate for development. Local officials practice "YIMBYism" which is "yes, in my
back yard" (Pollock et al., 1992), but the sites are not put in the official's backyard. When
an industry, regardless of its potential environmental impact, promises an expanded tax
base and employment opportunities, the local government tends to leap at the proffered
opportunity before considering its residents' viewpoints. The EJM protests such actions:
two recent minority protests prevented the siting of hazardous facilities, one in Louisiana
and the other in California.
The citizens of Wallace, Louisiana, where the population is 98 percent African-
American, prevented the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Company's $700 million wood
pulp and rayon plant from being located in the town. Located in "Cancer Alley" or the
"Chemical Corridor," Wallace sits in the 130 mile long and 30 mile wide strip from Baton
Rouge to New Orleans that attracts many environmentally unfriendly industries. Governor
Buddy Roemer and local politicians supported the plant because it promised an influx of
jobs. Opponents of the plant included Wilfred M. Greene, a black retired school principal,
who stated that "politicians here never once dreamed this plant would drum up this much
opposition. They will never try this again" (Marcus, 1992). Approximately 140 industries
have already located in the region, but the once enthusiastic welcome to industry has given
way to the concerns within the community as voiced by minority, environmental, and
historic preservation groups.
In 1991, residents of Kettleman City, California prevented the siting of the state's
first commercial hazardous waste incinerator due to a deficient environmental impact
investigation. Kettleman City, in Kings County, comprised of 95% Latinos, is already the
site of the fourth largest hazardous waste landfill in the United States. Although Latinos
were not represented on the Kings County board of commissioners (the siting authority);
they were going to be the ones most effected by the proposed Chemical Waste
Management's commercial incinerator (Wheal, 1993, 6).
As mentioned above, several recent discrimination lawsuits filed by residents in
minority and low-income neighborhoods illustrate environmental concerns in these
communities. Chester, Pennsylvania residents charged the state with environmental racism
because of the concentration of waste-processing plants in the community. Their
complaint maintains that the state violate the equal protection laws in the Civil Rights Act
(1964) by granting 5 permits for waste-processing centers in their black-majority
community since 1987. In that county, white communities have 3 waste sites while black
neighborhoods support 8 such commercial sites (Janofsky, 1996, A13). The Chester suit is
unique because it sues the state for discrimination leading to adverse health effects instead
of suing an industry, industries, or a governmental agency, This type of suit and the
organization of groups in the EJM are political manifestations of community concerns
about environmental racism. These concerns indicate that minority exposure to and
perception of risks is different than that of the bulk of the population.
Relatively few empirical studies in the literature concerning risk perceptions among
minority groups explore differences among minorities' perceptions of the environmental
risks to which they are exposed. Nor have scholars related these perceptions to trust in
government and other social institutions. Studies of environmental racism suggest
disproportionately high minority exposure (in comparison with the bulk of the population)
to environmental risk which in itself exacerbates minority distrust in these institutions.
The literature on risk perception, however, does little to document concerns about
environmental risk's relationship to repositories of group trust in risk communication, or
about possible variations in the relationships among minority groups. This study clarifies
these relationships by asking four questions:
(1) Do significant differences exist among racial and ethnic minorities in their
concern about environmental risk and trust in sources of risk communication at the DOE
3 Most suits are brought against a specific industry. The arguments that many industries
employ to disprove intentional discrimination (which is required to win most civil rights
cases) are difficult to litigate. A commonly used argument is that the site was once
surrounded by white working-class neighborhoods that have only recently become
minority communities. Another is that the site was chosen for geological reasons. There
are two other suits in which a community, one in Michigan and the other in North
Carolina, is suing a state under Federal civil rights law. These suits have not gone to trial
(Janofsky, 1996, A13).
(2) In what way(s) is concern about environmental risk related to trust in specific
sources of risk communication at the DOE sites?
(3) Are there also differences among these groups in respect to the linkage
between concern about environmental risk and trust in information sources?
(4) How might these findings be useful for policymakers involved in risk
communication both at the DOE sites and elsewhere?
Conclusion: The Significance for Policvmaking of Minority Concern
about Environmental Risk
The present research is especially relevant to risk management policy because
minority concern about environmental risk has implications for the policymaking process.
Policymakers can benefit from a better understanding of how the public and, in particular,
ethnic and racial minorities perceive risk. If racial and ethnic groups vary in their concern
about environmental risk, implementing mechanisms to address these differences or
similarities can effect the policymaking process in four ways. First, the views of distinct
ethnic and racial groups can effect how much and how credibly policymakers can
communicate with minority individuals. Second, minority preferences for specific policy
solutions or risk management alternatives are likely determined by their views of
environmental risk. Third, policymakers' ability to implement decisions may be
substantially effected by public responses: ifa particular ethnic group does not trust or
agree with the decisions of a government agency, then that agency may encounter great
difficulty in carrying out its decisions. Finally, ethnic and racial variation in views about
environmental risk may influence the policy structure or process itself as changes are made
to accommodate minority attitudes.
In 1994, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) contracted with the
Consortium for Environmental Risk Evaluation (CERE) to assess public concerns about
DOE nuclear weapons facility sites. CERE conducted a series of focus groups
between 1994 and 1995 with individuals residing near nuclear weapons facilities. CERE
selected six sites from different areas of the country. The data generated by these focus
groups present an excellent resource for further exploration and clarification of issues
central to the present research project. The following discussion explains the rationale for
selecting the specific study sites, a description of the CERE study, and the methodologies
that will be employed--content analysis and a multivariate statistical technique--to analyze
Case Selection: Why These Sites?
In 1993, Congress instructed the DOE to produce a report "evaluating the risks to
the public health and safety posed by the conditions at weapons complex facilities" across
the nation (PL 103-126, October 28, 1993). The United States nuclear weapons program
began with the Manhattan Project during World War II and continued to expand until the
late 1980s. Today there are 132 DOE nuclear weapons facilities located in 30 states
around the nation. The United States has spent approximately $300 billion (1995 dollars)
on nuclear weapon production, testing, and research from the Manhattan Project to the
present (U.S. Department of Energy. 1995, 3). The projected cost of the environmental
cleanup of nuclear weapon sites ranges from 175 billion to 1 trillion dollars over 75 years
(U.S. Department of Energy, 1996; Veiluva, 1996).'
In response to the congressional mandate, the DOE contracted out this report to a
team of experts from consulting firms and academic institutions based at Tulane University
and Xavier University of Louisiana Awarding this contract helped to establish CERE, the
organization charged with developing a credible, scientific approach to the estimation of
risks associated with the DOE's environmental management activities under existing
compliance agreements. The DOE also requested CERE to assess public concerns so that
the DOE could include meaningful stakeholder involvement in the process of
environmental remediation and cleanup. CERE elected to focus on six major facilities:
Hanford Site (Richland, Washington)
Savannah River Site (SRS) (Aiken, South Carolina)
Oak Ridge Reservation (Oak Ridge, Tennessee)
Rocky Flats Environmental Technology (Golden, Colorado)
Idaho National Engineering Laboratory or INEL (Idaho Falls, Idaho)
Femald Environmental Management Program (Femald, Ohio)
CERE chose these six sites because they experienced the worst environmental degradation
and, therefore, posed the greatest threat to public health and safety. The DOE funding
requests to cleanup these facilities indicate the extent of the damage at each location.
Table 3-1 reports the 1995 congressional budget requests for each site.
SSee Chapter 1
Table 3-1: Environmental Management 1995 Congressional Budget Request for the Six
Highest Funded Sites
Site 1995 Funding Request
Hanford $1.6 Billion
Savannah River Site $744 million
Oak Ridge $671 million
Rocky Flats $640 million
INEL $497 million
Fernald $294 million
Source: Congresssional Budget Office based on data from Department of
Energy, Environmental Management 1994, DOE/EM-0119 (February 1994).
Each of these sites served a different function in the building of America's nuclear
weapons arsenal; however, all suffered profound environmental degradation.2 Hanford,
like all the sites chosen for study, has a long history. In 1943, the United States Army
Corps of Engineers selected this site to house a nuclear reactor and the chemical
processing facilities necessary for the production of bomb-grade plutonium. Some fifty
years later, the site's primary mission is no longer the production, separation, and
purification of plutonium, but the treatment of the hazardous wastes previously produced
The Savannah River Site (SRS) served several purposes since its inception in the
early 1950s. The military used it primarily for tritium production--a radioactive, gaseous
form of heavy hydrogen that augments the explosive force of H-bombs. SRS poses one of
the biggest challenges for environmental management: more than 650 contaminated
buildings still stand on the site. As present, the site's mission is environmental restoration,
2 See Makhijani, et al., 1995 for a detailed discussion of the damage.
support of the United States reduced defense needs as well as the storage, treatment,
stabilizing, and disposal of waste
Although Hanford produced plutonium, the Oak Ridge reservation refined the
uranium necessary for that production. Established in 1942 as a part of the Manhattan
Project, Oak Ridge was a major supplier of enriched uranium for both military and
commercial uses until 1987. Demand for uranium diminished after 1987: consequently,
some of the Oak Ridge facilities closed. At present, Oak Ridge's main purpose is
developing new nuclear weapons technologies and waste treatment.
Rocky Flats prepared plutonium for the nuclear weapons' trigger assemblies
produced at this site. Between 1951 and 1989, Rocky Flats made these plutonium
triggers, but in 1992 the DOE changed the site mission to environmental restoration and
waste management. The new mission prompted DOE to rename the "Rocky Flats Plant"
the "Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site" in 1994.
Since the late 1940s, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory's (INEL) has
conducted nuclear research. INEL has witnessed the development and testing of several
kinds of nuclear reactors. Although its focus has changed, INEL still supports research
for federal agencies, including the DOE.
The facility at Fernald, Ohio closed in July 1991 after a long history of refining
the uranium used in nuclear weapon manufacturing. The DOE formerly called Femald the
"Feed Materials Production Center" (a reference to the uranium "feed" for fuel rods);
because of this name, many individuals living near the site thought that the facility made
pet food or cattle feed (Hardert, 1993). Fernald is now engaged in environmental
restoration, waste containment and management, and the development of new
technologies to facilitate these processes.
Data Employed: Description of the CERE Study
To document public concerns, CERE went beyond the conventional public hearing
format to gather data from local communities around nuclear weapons facilities.3 CERE
conducted focus groups at all six sites. The data sources used in this research are the
transcripts of the focus group sessions, participant surveys (distributed at the end of the
focus group sessions), and concern cards (distributed at the beginning of the session in
which the moderator of the focus groups asked each participant to write down two or
three local issues of concern to them at present). Using this data, this dissertation targets
traditionally underrepresented groups--minorities and lower income individuals whose
limited participation in the political process is often ignored by policymakers.
CERE constructed two types of focus groups: "Type A" and "Type B." Type A
consisted of self-selected individuals, who responded to invitations to attend the focus
groups, and, therefore knew that the focus group discussions would concentrate on the
DOE sites. Type B contained individuals randomly selected from a pool of potential
participants by professional marketing consultants. The pool drew from groups identified
as being either underrepresented in policy making or disproportionately effected by risks at
the DOE sites. Type B respondents were not informed that the discussion would center
3 See Appendix B for demographic profiles of the study areas. See Chapter 1 for a
discussion of the incidents that have lead to mistrust in government and the DOE by
citizens living near these sites.
around the DOE site until a predetermined time during the focus group meeting. Type B
participants had little or no background in the issues discussed and had not participated in
any previous meetings or activities at the site. CERE paid all the Type B participants a
small stipend for participating in the sessions.4
In total, there were 60 Type A focus groups consisting of regulators,
environmentalists, site workers, government officials, emergency responders, and
proximate populations. Only three Type A groups appear in this study, all composed of
Native Americans.' All other groups examined--African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-
Americans, whites, downwind and downgradient populations, senior citizens, students,
and occupationally-based groups (such as farmers and ranchers)--were Type B.6
CERE carefully designed the Type B focus groups to reflect different demographic
segments of the population. CERE recruited these individuals using a prepared
questionnaire structured to reveal certain demographic characteristics of the individuals
and to place them in their appropriate groups. The groups were constructed by age,
gender, race and ethnicity, rural residence, and proximity to each site such as "downwind"
or "downgradient." Each group comprised between 5 and 12 participants and had a
specific recruitment profile such as being all-African-American or all-Asian-American.
4 Robert Sevier (1989) and others argue that difficulty in recruitment justifies financial
compensation of $20.00 or more. Because recruitment of minority and low-income
participants proved extremely difficult, all participants in the Type B focus groups
SSee Chapter 7.
6 In total, CERE conducted 44 Type B focus groups of which 29 are used in the author's
content analysis of the focus groups. Senior citizens, students, and occupationally-based
groups are omitted from the content analysis. All available Type B groups are included in
the analysis of the participant profiles. Thirty-nine sets of participant profiles from the
groups were available, and all are used for the multivariate statistical technique.
The downwind population includes "those individuals who live in the areas determined to
be downwind from the installation based on airborne emission studies." The downgradient
population contained "those individuals who live in the areas determined to be
downgradient from the installation based on site characterization studies. Generally,
downgradient populations are those in the direction of groundwater flow away from the
installation" (CERE, 1995). Groups typically had balanced gender representation.
Trained moderators conducted the Type B focus groups in which a 27-question
protocol with elaborating probes structured each discussion. For the three Native
American groups (Type A focus groups), CERE employed a similar protocol.
Moderators asked a range of questions moving from those broad social issues and the
quality of the environment to the environmental risks associated with particular nuclear
weapons facilities. Each focus group session lasted from one and one-half to two hours.
Early in 1995, CERE produced tapes and transcripts of the focus groups, and made them
available to the author in mid-1995. As the largest focus group study related to risk
perception ever undertaken, the CERE project generated considerable quantities of raw
The 29 focus groups subjected to content analysis here consist of six African-
American groups, five Asian-American groups, five Latino groups, and thirteen white
groups. Combined, these groups contain 383 respondents. Eleven of the 13 white groups
comprised downgradient or downwinder whites. Of the two remaining white groups,
7 Because of differences between the protocols, the researcher could not include the Type
A Native American focus groups in the analysis. See Appendix C for protocols.
one's selection profile was exclusively white without reference to location; the other,
Appalachian (a regionally based category)
Moderators distributed a participant survey at the end of each focus group session.
Three hundred and eighty-seven individuals from the 40 Type B groups filled out this
survey and answered demographic questions concerning gender, age, income level, and
the number of children under age 21 in their household. Along with several other
questions--incidental to the present study--respondents determined whether or not they
considered themselves to be "an environmentalist."'
The author used information collected at the beginning of the Type B focus groups
in this analysis. After convening, the moderators asked participants to jot down two or
three local issues that concerned them on note cards. CERE tried to prevent participants
from obtaining prior knowledge of what the group would be discussing (so, that
spontaneous mentions of environmental concern could be documented); however, in a few
groups the moderator either revealed the topic of discussion or else participants insisted
on knowing what the group would be discussing. This revelation did not affect the focus
group discussions. Moderators collected concern cards for 35 of the Type B focus
groups. Twenty-five inform this analysis.'
' See Appendix D for participant form.
9 The 10 unused sets of concern cards came from senior citizen, student, or occupational
(such as farmers or ranchers) groups, deemed inappropriate for this analysis.
Why Focus Groups?
Although integral to social science research for the past fifty years, few recent
political science studies rely on focus group procedures.' The focus group method is "an
interview style designed for small groups" (Berg, 1995, 68). Generally, focus groups
involve between six and 12 people brought together under the direction of a moderator to
discuss issues for up to two hours. Table 3-2 summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of
focus group data. The major strengths and weaknesses of focus group data, as it pertains
to this study, are discussed subsequently.
Table 3-2: Potential Strengths and Weaknesses of Focus Group Data
Potential Strengths Potential Weaknesses
1. Discourse produced can be richer and 1. Topic may interest some, but not
deeper due to the control afforded others (Morgan, 1988)
participants (Sypher, 1994)
2. Findings do not always need 2. Recruitment of participants (Sypher,
corroboration; they can be "self-contained" 1994)
(Sypher, 1994; Morgan, 1988)
3. In a short amount of time, a great 3. Social desirability (Byers and Wilcox,
amount of data can be collected (Sypher, 1991)
1994; Morgan, 1988)
4. Relatively low cost (Sypher, 1994; 4. Cost can be too high (Sypher, 1994)
Krueger, 1994; Morgan, 1988)
5. Serendipitous findings (Sypher, 1994) 5. Informal discussions are fluid and,
thus, susceptible to tangents (Sypher,
6. Educational function for the participants 6. Lack of videotaping groups which
(Sypher, 1994) prevents analysis of nonverbal
communication (Sypher, 1994)
7. Communicative function for the 7. Not based in natural settings (Morgan,
participants (Sypher, 1994) 1988)
"' An exception is Gamson, 1992. Another recent political science study uses focus group
data in a study of the 1992 presidential debates due to "their open-ended nature" which
allows the researcher to explore different issues as they arise within the format of a group
discussion (Carlin, 1994, 13).
Potential Strengths Potential Weaknesses
8. Social function for the participants 8. Affords the researcher less control
(Sypher, 1994) over the data that are generated than
would individual interviews (Morgan,
1988; Krueger, 1994)
9. Moderator can probe unanticipated 9. Some data can be difficult to analyze
issues (Krueger, 1994) (Krueger, 1994)
10. High face validity* (Krueger, 1994) 10. Require moderators to have special
skills (Krueger, 1994)
11. Can potentially provide quick results if 11. Variability in group dynamics
needed (Krueger, 1994) (Krueger, 1994)
12. As compared with other qualitative 12. Difficulty in assembling groups
studies, capacity to increase the sample (Krueger, 1994)
size of the study (Krueger, 1994)
13. Ability to explore topics and generate 13. Must be in a conducive environment
hypotheses (Morgan, 1988) (Krueger, 1994)
14. Opportunity to collect data from group 14. Uncertainty as to whether interaction
interaction (Morgan, 1988) within the group reliably reflects
individual behavior (Morgan, 1988)
15. Can be used to explore not just what 15 Expression/articulation of group
people think, but how they think and why norms may silence individual voices of
they think that way (Kitzinger, 1995) dissent (Kitzinger, 1995)
16. Do not discriminate against people
who cannot read or write (Kitzinger, 1995)
17. Can encourage contributions from
people who are reluctant to be interviewed
on their own (Kitzinger, 1995)
18. Can encourage contributions from
people who feel they have nothing to say
or who are unresponsive (Kitzinger, 1995)
* Face validity is whether the results look valid.
Major Strengths of the Focus Group Data Used in This Research
Several of the strengths of focus groups listed in Table 3-2 pertain to the focus
group data generated by CERE. "Data generated from focus group interviewing tend to
be richer, deeper, and qualitatively different than that supplied by other more traditional
methods; focus groups provide the texture as well as the substance, and the logic
as well as the language of ordinary citizens" (Sypher, 1994, 42). The interaction between
participants illuminates the logic and assumptions of the respondents; interaction allows
individuals time to rethink positions, arguments, and opinions. Many times in the focus
groups analyzed here, participants would agree with other participants' statements, or
even rethink their own and other's arguments. Focus groups reveal citizens' viewpoints
and the reasons why they think the way that they do. The use of focus group data allows
participants themselves to emerge from the scholarship with their own voices intact.
Focus groups are "especially useful when working with categories of people who
have historically had limited power and influence" (Morgan and Krueger, 1993, 15).
Focus group sessions provide a secure environment for discussants to express their
concerns. These groups
allow multiple interviewees to respond in detail. In effect, they are intended to
empower [italics added] respondents by allowing them to create what Mischler
(1986) calls a 'speech event' where terms, issues, and meanings are not
predetermined; where interviewees ask questions and produce narratives; and
where both interviewees and respondents become engaged in conversation.
(Sypher, 1994, 38-39)
The focus group method allows individuals to express themselves freely, and expand upon
points and arguments that are important to them. This "empowering" is important for
individuals from marginalized groups who may not feel confident in expressing their
opinions. This is particularly true for minorities whose views may have been ignored or
criticized by other citizens.
The focus group format is beneficial when a culture gap exists between
professionals and their target audiences; through this format, a researcher can identify the
shared and common knowledge held by a group. In the view of one scholar, interaction
within a focus group makes this form of data collection
particularly sensitive to cultural variables--which is why it is so often used in cross-
cultural research and work with ethnic minorities ... A method that facilitates the
expression of criticism and the exploration of different types of solutions is
invaluable if the aim of the research is to improve services. Such a method is
especially appropriate when working with particular disempowered patient
populations who are often reluctant to give negative feedback or may feel that any
problems result from their own inadequacies. (Kitzinger, 1995, 300)
Among other major advantages, data from focus groups do not need
corroboration, can be collected in a reasonable amount of time, and generally costs less to
gather than data generated by quantitative studies. All these strengths support the use of
focus groups to better understand public perceptions of the chosen DOE sites.
Major Weaknesses of the Focus Group Data Used in This Research
Table 3-2 lists the potential weaknesses of focus group data. In the CERE study,
one might expect certain weaknesses to be potentially relevant: namely, a lack of
participant interest (Morgan, 1988), the difficulty recruiting volunteers (Sypher, 1994) the
loss of control over the data generated than individual interviews (Morgan, 1988;
Krueger, 1994), and difficulty in analyzing some data (Krueger, 1994). The DOE
sponsored focus group data suffer from only the last two of these problems.
Although focus group participants are often disinterested in the discussion
topic(s), in the CERE study, the majority of respondents desired more information about
risks from the DOE sites, and were articulate about their own experiences. Rarely did
moderators have to stimulate discussion during focus group sessions. Historically,
minority participants have been difficult to recruit for similar focus groups; however, a
CERE-hired professional marketing firm successfully recruited both whites and nonwhite
Concerning control over the data generated, CERE's documentation of the focus
group sessions poses problems for this analysis. CERE attributed participant responses on
a "man" or "woman" basis. Although moderators were instructed to discourage one
participant from dominating the discussion, there is no way to determine how many
different participants were involved in any given exchange,
The approach used by CERE suffers at times from the well-known problem of
interviewer effects (where the interviewer's personality or other characteristics effect the
participant responses). This is especially problematic with focus groups because they are
less scripted than other conventional interviewing formats. They give more discretion and
latitude to moderators and this sometimes makes it difficult to make valid comparisons
Validity of the Focus Group Results Compared With Survey Research
Richard Krueger argues that 'focus groups are valid if they are used carefully for
a problem that is suitable for focus group inquiry" (Krueger, 1994, 31). Krueger defines
validity as "the degree to which the procedure really measures what it proposes to
measure." He describes two types of validity. Face validity occurs when the results look
valid to the researcher and tend to arise from several focus groups. Predictive or
convergent validity is "the degree to which the results are confirmed by future behaviors,
experiences, or events" and may vary substantially from group to group (Krueger, 1994.
To assess the validity of the focus group format, Fred D Reynolds and Deborah K.
Johnson (1978) compare a focus group study with a large scale mail-out survey. Both
methods of data collection were nationwide: an advertising firm sent a mail survey to 2000
females with a 90% response rate and conducted 20 focus groups in 10 cities. Reynolds
and Johnson compare the results of the two studies and find the level of agreement to be
97%. Moreover, where discrepancy appear, the focus groups prove to have a higher level
of predictive validity than the mail survey (Reynolds and Johnson, 1978; Krueger, 1994).
Content analysis, the principle method of analysis used in this study, should
alleviate some problems that emerge in other studies of minority concern about
environmental risk. Focus group data eliminate the need to impose a specific
operationalization or definition of risk perception or concern about environmental risk,
typically found in studies using survey research data. In the protocols, moderators asked
participants such questions as "How serious do you think the problems are with the wastes
at (name site)?" In responding to such questions, the participants directly respond and
elaborate on how they view risks and explore what risk and environmental issues mean to
them. Further, the organization of participants into ethnic, racial, and cultural groups
avoids the common overaggregation of minority groups into one amorphous "nonwhite"
category too often found in other studies of risk perception and political trust."
This study utilizes two methodologies, content analysis and a multivariate
statistical technique; it places primary emphasis on content analysis, used to analyze the
" For example, the 1994 study by Flynn et al. does not disaggregate nonwhites.
focus group discussions and concern card responses. An ordered probit model using the
participant profile data supplements the evidence. The data from each focus group, made
available by CERE and selected for use by the researcher, appears in Table 3-3.2
Table 3-3: Data Available and Selected for Use by the Researcher
Focus Groups Parcipant Profiles Concern Cards
Number* People** Number People Number People
Type A 3*** 20 0 0 0 10
Type B 29 383 39 389 25 242
* Number of Focus Groups
** Number of people in focus groups
** Not included in content analysis.
Because moderators asked different questions in the Type A groups (as compared
with the Type B groups), the researcher had to omit these groups from the content
Why Content Analysis?
Robert Philip Weber defines content analysis to be "a research method that uses a
set of procedures to make valid inferences from text. These inferences are about the
sender(s) of the message, the message itself, or the audience of the message" (Weber,
1990). Others consider content analysis more loosely as "any of several research
techniques used to describe and systematically analyze the content of the written, spoken,
or pictorial communication--such as books, newspapers, television programs, or interview
transcripts" (Vogt, 1993). In content analysis, the researcher employs systematic and
2 See Appendix E for a list of which focus groups are used in each component of the
" The researcher discusses aspects of the Native American groups in Chapter 7.
objective recording and counting techniques to quantitatively represent a text's semiotic
significance. Researchers using this method often "include a qualitative evaluation of the
content for exploratory purposes" (Neuman, 1994, 262).
Although content analysis has not been widely used in political science, other
social sciences, such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology, rely heavily upon it.
Scholars use content analysis to illuminate many subjects. Researchers explore popular
and elite culture through content analysis of song lyrics; others study gender dynamics
through content analysis of small group discussions (Weber, 1990). According to W. Paul
Vogt, "probably the most famous" application of content analysis occurred in the late
1960s when statisticians and psychologists used word frequency analysis to determine
authorship of the Federalist Papers (Vogt, 1993). The best known use of content analysis
in political science is Paul Lazarsfeld's study of German propaganda in World War II
Kris Krippendorff supports content analysis because it is "fundamentally empirical,"
"transcends conventional notions of content," and promotes "a methodology ... that
enables the researcher to plan, to communicate, and to critically evaluate a research design
independently of its results." (Krippendorff, 1980, 9-10). Content analysis reduces
substantial amounts of data into a few categories (Tesch, 1990). A researcher can calculate
the frequency of comments in each content category to make broad conclusions from the
data. Content analysis is the most appropriate method for this analysis because it allows the
researcher to employ the same categories across group and, thereby, compare all groups
used in the study.
Considerations for the Content Analysis of Focus Groups Used in This Research
Richard Krueger identifies several factors or potential problems that need to be
addressed in analyses of focus groups: researchers must control for the biases, edit messy
quotations, allow for nonverbal communication in the focus group, compensate for the
influence of the moderator or assistant moderator on the participants, and determine how
to use of numbers in focus group results (Krueger, 1994, 153-156). All these factors were
considered in this content analysis of the CERE focus groups. First, the analyst used
coding rules and reliability checks to control for biases (see below). Second, although
grammatical errors can be corrected if these changes do not alter the meanings of
comments (Krueger, 1994, 154), the researcher only corrected typographical errors so
that respondents' ways of expressing themselves remained intact. Third, nonverbal
communication could not be addressed directly because the focus groups were not
videotaped; however, the moderators' comments many times provided insight into how
the respondents reacted to questions and to each other The influence of moderators and
assistant moderators on respondent comments was also addressed. In terms of coding, the
moderator had to ask the protocol questions verbatim (or almost verbatim) for the
researcher to include respondents' comments in the content analysis. In other words,
when moderators deviated from the prescribed topic, the researcher did not code
respondent's comments. The researcher included only questions asked to all groups.
Further, in both focus group and survey research, the moderator should be ethnically or
racially identical to the group participants because this encourages the participants to
speak more freely about group or cultural concerns. In almost all the focus groups
analyzed here, the moderator met this requirement. In the few cases where the moderator
was ethnically or racially different than group members, the analyst took this into
consideration. In the few groups where the moderator was not the same race or ethnicity,
participants reacted in a similar fashion to same race or ethnicity participant and moderator
groups. The researcher also considered the role of the moderator in facilitating discussion.
Some moderators were better than others in allowing enough time for participants to
respond and in encouraging discussion. Generally, this had to do with the personality of
the moderator and cannot be controlled.
The Quantitative and Qualitative Representations of Content Analysis
Holsti cautions that "content analysis may be considered as a supplement to, not as
a substitute for, subjective examination of documents" (Holsti, 1968, 602). In this analysis,
the researcher analyzes both the frequencies of comment mentions and the participant's
comments. Thus, the symbolic content of the texts are both quantitatively and
qualitatively evaluated and explored.
Content Analysis of the Focus Group Data
The analyst performed content analysis on 29 focus group records to explore the
relationship between minority status and risk perception, as well as the relationship
between minority status and trust. Specifically, the analyst examined each focus group
with the end result being a number of "mentions" of concern about environmental risk and
repositories of trust." This method is used to test the following two hypotheses:
HRico Ethnic and racial groups will differ significantly in their concern about
"The researcher used the same method in conducting the content analysis of the concern
HT, Ethnic and racial groups will differ significantly concerning the institutions
and individuals in which each group places trust for information about the
Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons sites.
Creating and Testing the Coding Schemes
This researcher follows Robert Weber's (1990) guidelines for creating and testing
coding schemes for the content analysis of focus group discussions. Weber's steps are:
1. Define the recording units.
2. Define the categories.
3. Test coding on sample of text.
4. Assess accuracy or reliability.
5. Revise the coding rules.
6. Return to Step 3. [After completing Steps 3-5 for the second time, skip Step 6.]
7. Code all the text.
8. Assess achieved reliability or accuracy (Weber, 1990, 21-24).
This analyst followed these steps to create a coding scheme to reveal concern about
environmental risk, repositories of trust, and local issues. This researcher documents the
coding method in the following sections and also Appendices F through I.
Content Analysis: Concern about Environmental Risk
To assess concern about environmental risk, this researcher performed content
analysis on 15 of the 27 questions asked during the course of the focus groups." These
questions dealt with environmental quality and the perceived risks posed by the sites.
Moderators asked participants such questions as "Does this area have much air pollution?"
and subsequent probes relating to the same question such as "What evidence of air
pollution do you see, or what leads you to believe as much?" Following Weber's steps,
the researcher devised a coding scheme for the respondents' comments, and then coded
the text using a set of rules compiled after testing the coding scheme. The unit of analysis
15 See Appendix F for a list of the 15 questions used.
was a respondent's statement The researcher coded each individual's comments as a
single mention in one of seven categories: Not Relevant, Do Not Know, Not Concerned,
Slightly Concerned, General Concern, Personal Concern, and Action Concern." An
exchange from the Hanford African-American group provides an example (coding listed in
brackets after mention):
Moderator: Does this area have much air pollution?
Man: I don't think they have an over-average amount, but what bothers
me is this atomic stuff. That's what bothers me. If that stuff gets in
the air, then that's a disaster, if too much of that gets in the air.
You can't see it. You can't smell it, and you don't really know
when you're getting it. [general concern]
Moderator: Well, do you think there's air pollution now in this area?
Man: Oh, there's some pollution. I don't think it's too bad, but I think it's
some. [slightly concerned]
Moderator: Okay. Anyone else think that there's air pollution?
Woman: A lot of people get allergies. There's dust, a lot of dust and stuff,
too. [general concern]
After coding, the analyst calculated the frequencies of each category. The results of the
content analysis appear in Chapter 5.
Content Analysis: Repositories of Trust
To determine which institutions or individuals were trusted in risk communication,
an approach similar to the one used to assess concern about environmental risk was
employed. During the course of the focus group protocol, moderators asked the
following question in all 29 groups: "Who would you trust to give you accurate
information about (Name site) and the activities at (Name site)?" The quantitative content
analysis for trust derives from this question alone.
16 See Appendix G for definitions of these categories.
If respondents mentioned several sources, the moderator was instructed to ask the
groups to rank those mentioned from most trustworthy to least trustworthy. Although,
generally, the respondents did not rank these sources on a continuum, the participants did
identify the sources that they viewed as least or most reliable. Again, the researcher
created a coding scheme following Weber's steps. The unit of analysis was each mention
of a source of trust. The author coded each of the mentions under one of the following
general categories of trustworthy sources of information: "Governmental," "Personal,"
"Nongovernmental," "Industrial," and "No One." For example, two trustworthy sources
were coded from the following exchange from the Oak Ridge Asian-American group
(trustworthy sources are underlined and coding is in brackets).
Moderator: Who would you trust to give you accurateinformation about Oak
Woman: I would trust the media. The news media. It's hard for them to
give wrong information to the people. [nongovernmental]
Moderator: Somebody else? Who would you trust to give you accurate
Man: I think they should hire a private organization. [nongovernmental]
As with concern about environmental risk, the researcher compared the frequency with
which each category appeared. The results of this content analysis appear in Chapter 5.
Content Analysis of the Concern Cards
The analyst applied content analysis to the 242 concern cards from 25 of the focus
groups to gain insight into the mindset and worldview of the respondents. At the
commencement of focus group interviews, moderators asked participants to list the two or
three local issues that concerned them most. Following Weber's steps, the analyst
developed a coding scheme and content categories based on what the respondents wrote
on the cards. Next, the researcher calculated the frequency of each local issue to draw
comparisons across the ethnic and racial groups. The researcher coded and categorized
the issues into the following categories: "Crime," "Education," "Government,"
"Economy," "Environment," "DOE Site," and "General Society."" The respondents' lists
ranged from simple mentions like "crime" or "landfill"" to more elaborate statements such
as "people imposing their will on others about cutting Social Security Benefits."'9 Both a
quantitative (frequency of mention) and qualitative representation (examples from the
concern cards and focus group discussions) of the content analysis appear in Chapter 6.
The Reliability of the Coding Used for the Content Analysis
The author conducted all coding and addressed reliability in two ways. First, if
there was uncertainty as to which category a statement or mention belonged, the author
showed this statement on a note card to three judges who placed that statement in a
category based on the coding definitions provided. Two out of three judges had to agree.
In all cases, two of the three judges agreed.
Second, another check for reliability involved coding by individuals other than the
researcher. The researcher chose six of the 29 focus groups and five of the 25 sets of
concern cards randomly, and checked for reliability by asking two other individuals to
follow the coding rules and categories found in Appendices H, I, and J. The formula used
in determining reliability was the Percentage of Agreement Index (PAI).
-----------------* 100 = PAI
Agreements + Disagreements
" See Appendix H for a description and examples of these categories.
"8 From the Oak Ridge Downgradient Rural Group.
19 From the Femald Appalachian Group.
Coding for concern about environmental risk received a PAI of 86.4%. Coding for trust
received a PAI of 90.3%, while coding for local issues of concern had a PAI of 92%.
Multivariate Statistical Analysis of the Participant Profile Data
Several rival explanations of the effect of ethnicity and race on risk perceptions
exist. The most important of these derives from a socioeconomic interpretation of
differences among groups rather than a cultural or race and ethnicity-based approach.2o
Use of a multivariate statistical technique, an ordered probit, to test the following
hypothesis was employed:
Hco Ethnic and racial groups will differ significantly in their level of environmental
Using an ordered probit model allows for a sophisticated multivariate approach
that controls for other demographic variables in examining the influence of race and
ethnicity on environmental concern. This method has two benefits. First, it allows for a
testing of hypotheses about other variables that are posited to affect environmental
concern. The second, and most important reason for using a multivariate statistical
method is that it helps determine whether racial or ethnic status significantly effects the
dependent variable, while controlling for variables suggested by competing hypotheses.
The dependent variable in this model is on a five point scale.2' When the
dependent variable is of this nature, the use of an ordinary least squares (OLS) regression
is no longer appropriate. OLS assumes that the difference between any and all pairs of
categories are separated by equal distances, when in fact there is no a prior theoretical
20 Socioeconomic interpretation of differences between groups focuses on income levels
" For a description of all variables used in the model, see Appendix J.
justification for assuming equidistant categories. Because of the nature of the dependent
variable, ordered probit is the appropriate method for this analysis. This maximizes
likelihood technique uses the data at hand to generate threshold levels that separate
categories, and therefore does not require the assumption of equal distances between
categories. These thresholds represent the probability that a case will fall into any of the
different categories (Greene, 1993; King, 1989). The results of this ordered probit model
appear in Chapter 4.
In 1994 and 1995, the Consortium for Environmental Risk (CERE) conducted
focus group interviews with residents living near six major nuclear weapons facilities
currently undergoing environmental restoration. CERE conducted this study to provide
information on public concerns about the risks posed by these sites. CERE's data provide
an excellent source for the exploration and clarification of many issues central to this
research. Generally, focus group data are ideal for research in subjects with a lack of pre-
existing theory. In particular, it provides qualitatively superior measurement and avoids
the necessity of strong a priori restrictions on the information collected. This study
examines the CERE focus group discussions through content analysis--a method rarely
used in political science--to address the possibility of variation in risk perception or
concern about environmental risk and institutional repositories of trust. Furthermore, the
study employs an ordered probit model to establish that ethnicity and race is important in
the determination of an individual's level of concern over environmental issues. The
findings of this analysis appear in Chapters 4, 5, and 6.
CONCERN ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL RISK ACROSS
ETHNIC AND RACIAL GROUPS
In cleaning up [the Savannah River Site] .. they have a problem. Not
only with this site, but numerous sites all around the country. It's what are
they going to do with the water? The radiated water. Remember a couple
of years ago there was a barge off the east coast from New York to
Maine--nobody would take their garbage because it was contaminated.
They couldn't pay you to take it because it had radiation in it and it would
kill the people. You can't put it in the ground, you can't put it in the
ocean. They use to tell us a lie that they could put it in containers with
liners in the container and the chemicals would stay for 200-300 years and
it won't come back into the environment. That was a lie. It'll come right
back up, it eats through it so they have a problem with it. That's the
problem. We can clean it up and store it in a warehouse or on our shelves,
but that's just prolonging the problem. That's not a solution. (African-
American Man, Savannah River Site)
Substantial evidence indicates that racial and ethnic minorities in the United States
are consistently exposed to more environmental hazards than the bulk of the population.
Theories of risk perception, generally, anticipate significant variation in risk perceptions
among citizens of the socially heterogeneous United States. In particular, social and
cultural theories posit racial and ethnic variation in risk perception. However, relatively
few empirical studies of risk perceptions or concern about environmental risk among
minority groups clarify differences in how they perceive the environmental risks to which
they are exposed.' Risk perception involves level of concern or worry about risks as well
' Other studies take this into consideration. Savage (1993) examines whites and African-
Americans and Flynn et al. (1994) study whites and "nonwhites."
as a myriad of other cognitive factors including how fearful individuals are about the
catastrophic potential of hazards. The recognition of differences in concern about
environmental risk among minority populations has significant implications for
policymaking because these perceptions clearly have political consequences. The
Environmental Justice Movement (EJM) organized precisely because minorities view their
exposure to environmental risk as substantially different from that of the majority of the
general population2 and, variations among groups should cause policymakers to make
distinctions in how they respond to these distinct ethnic and racial groups.
By combining content analysis with an ordered probit model, this analysis moves
beyond previous studies which focus exclusively on survey data. These two
methodologies--content analysis and an ordered probit model--reveal distinctions, not only
between whites and nonwhites, as is typically done in empirical studies of minorities and
concern about environmental risk, but also they permit a disaggregation of nonwhites into
multiple ethnic and racial groups
Further, data collection through focus group interviews allows the researcher to
gain a more explicit understanding of how respondents view environmental risks than can
be acquired through survey research.3 This chapter examines different patterns of concern
about environmental risk across ethnic and racial groups. Significant variation in these
patterns clearly exist in the focus group interviews.
2 See Chapter 2.
3See Chapters 2 and 3.
Concern About Environmental Risk
One purpose of the DOE study was to assess the magnitude and substance of
public concern about the environmental and health risks posed by nuclear weapons
facilities. In each focus group interview, the moderator was instructed to ask 27 similar
questions and subsequent probes.' Participants were asked a range of questions starting
with broad social issues and the quality of the environment, then narrowing to
environmental risks associated with a particular nuclear weapons facility. This open-ended
questioning allows for a richness of response not available from traditional survey
Fifteen of the 27 questions in the protocol are used in Table 4-1. These fifteen
questions specifically dealt with environmental quality and the risks from the sites. For
example, participants were asked "Does this area have much air pollution?" and followed
by probes relating to this same question such as "What evidence of air pollution do you
see, or what leads you to believe that there is not much?" Among the focus groups, those
involving groups traditionally underrepresented in the political process--minorities and
lower income individuals--as well as white comparison groups are included in this portion
of the analysis.'
Content analysis applied to several focus group discussions determines the
relationship between minority status and risk perception. Specifically, each focus group is
4See Appendix C for the focus group protocol or procedures for the moderator.
SOf the 13 white focus groups conducted, two were not also either downwinder or
Table 4-1: Mention of Environmental Risk Concern: By Ethnic or Racial Group*
Column Percents (Col. %) are in bold.
Whites Afncan- Asian- Latinos All Groups
[13 groups [6 groups [5 groups [5 groups [29 groups
14 people 02 people] 46 peopJl 51 people] 283 people]
N Col. N Col. N Col. N Col. N
% % % %
Do Not 22 2** 23 4 15 3 19 4 79
Not 124 11 49 9 24 5 53 12 250
Slightly 206 18 80 15 118 25 179 40 583
General 532 46 293 54 191 40 131 29 1147
Personal 189 17 85 16 95 20 59 13 428
Action 70 6 12 2 31 7 10 2 123
TOTALS 1143 542 474 451 2610
Responses to 15 of the 27 questions asked in all focus groups analyzed here were coded. These
questions dealt with the environmental quality and possible risks from the sites.
** Due to rounding error, column percent totals may not equal 100%.
characterized by the number of "mentions" of risk perception or concern about
environmental risk.6 The author used 29 groups--each exclusively composed of either
African-Americans (6 groups), Asian-Americans (5 groups), Latinos (5 groups), or whites
6 All the coding was conducted by the author. Six of the 29 focus groups were chosen
randomly and checked for reliability by two other individuals. Coding for risk perception
received an intercoder reliability coefficient of 86.4%. For a complete description of
coding rules see Appendix I.
(13 groups)--in the content analysis.' All groups together numbered 283 participants
Eleven of the 13 white groups were constituted from downgradient individuals or
downwinders. One of the remaining two groups was simply white (i.e., not downgradient
or downwinder); the other, Appalachian (a regionally based category). This is an
important point because the downwinder and downgradient white groups are likely
exposed to more risks than the rest of the white population in the United States. Thus,
differences between whites and minorities are likely underestimated in this study.
Table 4-1 categorizes mentions of environmental concern or perceptions of
environmental risk by ethnic or racial group. The first column identifies different
categories of concern about environmental risk: Do Not Know, Not Concerned, General
Concern, Personal Concern, and Action Concern. The category "Do Not Know" includes
statements of respondent uncertainty or inability to answer questions due to lack of
information. "Not Concerned" includes statements of unconcern about environmental
quality or risks from the sites. The category "Slightly Concerned" involves statements of
mild or qualified concern. "General Concern" is concern without qualifiers. The category
"Personal Concern" includes comments about the respondent or individuals the
respondent knows (e.g., parents, children, friends, or neighbors). "Action Concern"
reflects a change in behavior. For example, a respondent now drinks bottled water
because he or she is fearful of possible contamination from the site.s
7 CERE conducted the Native American focus groups using a different protocol (see
Appendix C for Type A focus group protocol), and, thus, cannot be included in the
quantitative content analysis; they are briefly examined qualitatively in Chapter 7.
8 See Appendix G for complete definitions of these categories.
Table 4-1 provides the raw number of mentions as well as the percentage of total
mentions per group (column percents. For example, African-Americans mentions of
general concern occur 293 times, 54% of their total mentions. Column percent allow
comparisons across all ethnic and racial groups
Table 4-1 indicates variation in concern about environmental risk across ethnic and
racial groups. Moreover, this table captures variations in ethnic and racial groups not
illuminated when they are aggregated into "nonwhites." In this respect, especially, the
existing literature is limited in its discussion of different ethnic and racial groups. Asian-
American concerns about environmental risk for instance, have not been addressed.
Furthermore, Latino and African-American concerns about environmental risk have been
compared only minimally.9
Three differences deserve special mention. First, perhaps the most important
finding from this evidence is that African-Americans have the highest percentage of
mentions of "general concern." Second, whites and Asian-Americans both had
significantly more mentions of "action concern" than either African-Americans or Latinos.
In particular, the expression of concern related to action is less prevalent among African-
Americans--the group most likely to mention a general concern. Finally, Latinos have
comparatively the smallest percentage of mentions, about general concern, personal
concern, and action concern, but the highest percentage of mentions of "slightly
concerned" and "not concerned."
9 See Chapter 2.
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