Main Topics

I. Home

II. Environmental Threats in Ohio

III. Health Impacts

IV. The Regulatory Agencies

V. Prioritization of Environmental Risks

VI. The Disconnect

VII. Ensuring Participation

VIII. Resolving Environmental Disputes

IX. Conclusion

X. Citizens' Guide to Environmental Protection

XI. About the Green Environmental Coalition

A Handbook for Professionals Serving Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Communities:
Health Professionals
Social Service Professionals

Produced by the Green
Environmental Coalition
in Association with The Ohio Environmental Education Fund

The Ohio Comparative Risk Project

The Ohio Comparative Risk Project began 1994. Its volunteer participants -- representatives from government, industry, and the public--have since identified and ranked the severity of 45 potential threats to health, ecosystems, and quality of life in Ohio. These were included in Ohio's first State of the Environment Report in 1995. The published report, an attempt to provide comprehensive information about the state of Ohio's environment, serves as a tool for Ohio citizens to use in making environmental decisions.

I. What is Comparative Risk?

  • It is a holistic prioritization of environmental risks based on scientific assessment and a recognition of public values.
  • It evaluates environmental issues on the basis of their impacts on human health, the ecosystem and citizen's quality of life.
  • It generates an environmental priority list within the constraints of limited available resources to protect the environment.
  • It involves all stakeholders in the decision-making process.

II. Why is Comparative Risk Important?

The number and subtlety of environmental problem areas challenge ready assessment.

  • The environmental regulatory agencies are departmentalized to deal with a multitude of problem areas.
  • Under-funded and overextended agencies tend to focus on public outrage brought on by the media sensationalizing the "crisis of the day." Yet these "crises" may pose no great risk to the majority of Ohioans.
  • Risk ranking represents a holistic problem-solving approach to environmental problems. It allocates scarce resources effectively while expanding a dialogue among the public and scientists.

III. How Can Comparative Risk Help?

It joins the public and scientists in a common purpose: to examine what problems pose the greatest risks to human health, the ecosystem, and quality of life.
  • It makes scientists aware of what people value and it increases public awareness of the science involved in environmental issues.
  • It allows more informed decisions on both sides.

IV. How does the Process work?

  • Risk ranking includes several steps:

    • developing categorical rankings of human health, ecosystem, and quality-of-life risks to develop a working list of issues
    • drafting an overall ranking based on specific criteria
    • commenting on the draft list
    • revising the draft list
  • The Ohio Comparative Risk Project participants initially generated a 700+ issue list, eventually combined and reduced to a manageable list of key issues.

    • Surface and ground water quality
    • Indoor air quality
    • Habitat loss and degradation
    • Environmental management
    • Outdoor air quality
    • Natural resource use
    • Waste management
    • Food safety
    • Land use and development
    • Drinking water at the tap
    • Environmental awareness and access to information

IV. Practice ranking and prioritizing environmental problems

To get a sense of the difficulty of ranking and prioritization of environmental risks, this section allows you to quickly repeat the processes conducted by the State's Comparative Risk Project over 18 months. You will analyze and assess the risks posed by Ohio's environmental issues and ultimately rank the issues on the basis of the risks you believe they pose. Finally, you will allocate resources to the areas that pose the greatest risks.

  • Ohioans, when asked to list environmental threats may include the following:

      ozone dust traffic lawn chemicals
      lead paint litter chemicals water contamination
      landfills lead in water pipes abandoned factories air pollution

  • Brainstorming

    Take five minutes to list as many potential environmental threats or issues real or perceived as you can. Nothing is too wild to go on the list.

    • Categorical rankings of human health, ecosystem, and quality-of-life risks
    • Group the items on your list by category (i.e. drinking water at the tap, solid waste, hazardous waste, industry, etc. ).
  • Allocation of Resources

    • Imagine that you're in charge of dealing with the issues. However, funds are limited. To which problems will you allocate your scarce resources?
    • Questions to consider:
      • Are these issues being addressed by the status quo (i.e. some people believe that certain activities are already well regulated - sewage treatment, solid waste, even hazardous waste - you must decide if the issue is adequately addressed in your community)?
      • Do any of the issues impact health?
      • Do any of the issues fit the public outrage criteria?
      • Now, allocate resources to your list of environmental issues. Use 10 pennies, each representing ten percent of the Ohio EPA budget.
  • Comparison of your results to the State Project's results. The Project's highest ranked issues, in alphabetical order:

    • Abandoned industrial sites
    • Drinking water at the tap
    • Exposure from lack of consumer awareness
    • Inadequate infrastructure (sewage/septic systems)
    • Indoor air quality
    • Industrial / commercial wastewater discharges
    • Mobile source emissions (cars, trucks)
    • Municipal waste disposal facilities
    • Ozone-depleting substances
    • Unregulated / abandoned hazardous waste facilities

V. Conclusion

Prioritization of environmental issues is at best a complicated process. It requires the integration of multiple criteria:

  • Scarce resources
  • Science
  • Public values
  • Public health
  • Ecosystems
  • Quality of life issues

As you work with individuals from disadvantaged communities, you may find ways to apply this prioritization process to empower them in evaluating environmental issues within their own communities.

2000 Green Environmental Coalition. All rights reserved worldwide.
Cached documents copyright by their respective authors.

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