Author

Shan Huang

Date of Award

8-2005

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Kathleen P. Bell

Second Committee Member

Jean MacRae

Third Committee Member

Kevin Boyle

Abstract

This thesis investigates the effects of newspaper coverage of arsenic contamination in drinking water on household water-test decisions in Maine. Exposure to arsenic in drinking water can lead to health risks, including cancer and non-cancer health effects. In response to those potential health risks, the Maine Bureau of Health relies on mass media as a tool to promote household water-tests and other mitigation behaviors. Knowledge of whether mass media can effectively stimulate water-tests and other mitigation actions is important to government agencies in designing risk communication campaigns and improving the effectiveness of these campaigns. To my knowledge, this study represents the first effort to assess the effectiveness of newspaper coverage at communicating risks from exposure to arsenic in drinking water. More than 20,000 water-test requests from 497 towns in Maine and newspaper reports on arsenic over the past eleven years offer this study a unique opportunity to track actual behavioral responses to risk communication over time. Two empirical analyses are used to assess the relationship between newspaper coverage and water-tests. One analysis focuses on the time series properties of the data and the other exploits the panel nature of the data set. Nonlinear count models as well as ordinary linear regression models are estimated. Results indicate newspaper coverage has a significant influence on household watertest decisions and the degree of the influence depends upon how the news is formatted and household demographic characteristics.

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