monly will focus on the 4th. Given the extent of public distrust of industry and government roles in siting processes in general, the public often views risk communication with severe skepticism (Kasperson et al. 1992). Members of the public sometimes view risk-communication efforts as a thinly veiled attempt to foist unwanted facilities on unwilling communities rather than as sincere efforts in joint problem-solving and conflict resolution. Even well-meaning efforts to inform and educate the public may be viewed as, at best, attempts to bring public perceptions into line with expert assessments of risk and, at worst, attempts to obfuscate the issues and belittle public concerns. Some government and industry representatives see risk communication merely as a means to a particular end (in this context, a siting decision).
In keeping with this skepticism and disagreement over goals, there may also be no consensus on what constitutes a successful risk-communication process. The facility owners or operators may see siting the facility as a success, whereas members of the public may see preventing the facility from being sited or operated as success. Members of the public may see the siting of a new incineration facility as a threat to the successful development of recycling and source-reduction programs. Even if a majority of local residents agree to a siting decision after an elaborate process of public discussion and negotiation, many members of the public could claim that the siting process was unfair, undemocratic, and invalid. To avoid that situation, a measure of success has been developed in terms of the process of risk communication, independent of the outcome. Risk communication is construed to be successful “to the extent that it raises the level of understanding of relevant issues or action for those involved and satisfies them that they are adequately informed within the limits of available knowledge ” (NRC 1989a).
If demand for incineration diminishes, siting controversies may become less common, although they are unlikely to disappear soon. Some underserved regions could move to site new facilities, and some old facilities could be replaced (by the building of new facilities at the same locations or at new locations). But risk communication should remain as a continuing process at existing facilities or at future facilities after siting. Overt expressions of public concern may diminish after siting, but they could come to the fore again if accidents occur; if changes in facility design, ownership, and operation (such as a decision to accept medical or other hazardous wastes) are planned; if cancer clusters or other health effects that may be attributable to a facility are discovered; or if a facility is shut down and needs to be cleaned up.
Given the nature of the problem (differing perceptions and values, procedural and outcome inequities, and public distrust), what is the best way to proceed in communicating about the risks associated with incineration facilities? There