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Basic Principles of Risk Communication in Air Pollution

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Abstract

Risk communication is crucial in response to any hazard to human health. Sharing information can help triggering necessary actions that can eventually lead to the solution of a problem or to a reduction of its negative effects, improving the outcome. Some basic rules must be followed, though, in order to create an effective communication, avoiding those mistakes that undermine the trust that people rely on risk assessors and decision-makers. Air pollution is a peculiar problem in risk communication as its effects are blurred although partially known also by the public. Most of them appear later in life and not always the cause- effect relationship is clear. For this reason, air pollution remains a major challenge in risk communication and health education.

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Chapter
Risk communication is a key factor able to affect the response of the population to an emergency and to promote correct actions and behaviors. The advent of a crisis on a global scale, as the 2020 pandemic of COVID-19, exposed some of the weakness of healthcare and political institutions worldwide, which failed to provide a proper and coordinated communication plan. With no effective preparedness and readiness procedures in place, the communication models used were arbitrary and distressed by the attempts of the many, some moved by good will, others merely by personal interest. In such a cacophony of often unsolicited opinions, any contingency plan and any procedure aimed to prevent the spread of the virus seemed to fail, often because the general public was simply unable to understand what was going on and why some measures were needed.
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As the tide of Covid-19 flood the world, health authorities are implementing a number of measures that have deeply changed the way people live. However, there is no shared consensus on how to communicate to the public what is happening, and why these extreme interventions are needed. Instead, people received in the latest weeks contrasting messages from the different actors involved in the fight against Coronavirus. Nevertheless, risk communication represents a key factor and is part of the response to any emergency or to the rise of any hazard affecting human health This delicate phase of information also has ethical and legal implications and directly affects people’s right to know and to act consequently for their own and the collectivity’s sake. We therefore call for the urgent creation of an International Crisis Management Unit aimed to implement a global, coordinated, top-to-bottom risk communication plan, coherent with what measures have been taken and will be taken in the future.
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