The Media's Role in Communicating Health Risks: What's in the Water?
On October 5, 1994, a symposium on communicating health risks form exposure to drinking contaminants was held on the campus of The University of Iowa in Iowa City. The Media's Role in Communicating Health Risks: What's in the Water? was jointly sponsored by the University of Iowa Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), the University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL), and the R.I.S.K. Project and The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The idea to hold this conference came about as a result of the need to respond to what the sponsors felt were inaccurate reports by the print media on the possible health effects from substances in drinking water, particularly nitrate. Dr. William Hausler, Director of the UHL was not convinced an op-ed piece to the local newspapers would not adequately present their position and that efforts should be directed towards organizing a symposium to bring technical experts and representatives of the media together to voice their concerns. Early on, the conference enlisted the aid of Dr. Alan Nagel, Director of the R.I.S.K. Project, and Professor Stephen Bloom, of the School of Journalism, in identifying potential keynote speakers and panel participants and in developing a format for the conference. We put together what we felt was an excellent group of technical and public health experts, and editors and environmental reporters from several large Midwestern newspapers. The timing of this conference could not have been better. Reports in the national media on the reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act and NBC Dateline coverage of public water supplies and cryptosporidium preceded the conference by just days.