Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: focal points for risk communication

Frans E. Greven, Liesbeth Claassen, Fred Woudenberg, Frans Duijm, Danielle Timmermans

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Large fires involving hazardous materials are often characterized by failing crisis communication. In this study, we compared opinions of experts regarding the risks of major fires to lay beliefs using a mental models approach. Amongst lay people this revealed relevant knowledge gaps and beliefs in opposition to those held by experts. While, experts considered the chance of getting cancer from inhaling smoke from a chemical fire extremely small, most lay people thought that even at a great distance, the chance of getting cancer to be large. To improve crisis communication about risk in a case of large chemical fires, and reduce the potential for messages to be misunderstood, distrusted or dismissed, we recommend a clarification of cancer risk in communications about public health emergencies such as chemical fires, for which lay people equate even small exposures to carcinogenic chemicals make one more likely to get cancer later in life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-252
Number of pages13
JournalInternational journal of environmental health research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2018


  • Crisis response
  • fire smoke
  • hazardous materials
  • risk communication
  • risk perception

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