You Do This and We’ll Do That: An Interactive Health Risk Communication

Case Study for the Conrail Rail Yard in Elkhart, Indiana



Speaker:                     Steven G Inserra, MPH REHS

Epidemiologist, ATSDR, Div of Health Studies


Level of Knowledge: Multi-Level


Long Abstract:


The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) presents how sharing fact-finding responsibilities with stakeholders keeps health messages on point and increases the likelihood that messages are heard. Conrail Rail Yard, one of the largest switching facilities for locomotives in the US, has a history of poor environmental compliance. In 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the yard and adjacent neighborhood as a Superfund hazardous waste site.  In 2000, a community group petitioned ATSDR to address those concerns and evaluate new data. In response to this petition, ATSDR developed an interactive approach to ensure a successful evaluation and improve risk communications. The interactive approach demonstrated ATSDR’s commitment to identify and evaluate community concerns, the community’s commitment to provide information regarding health concerns, and a commitment among the parties to advance health education goals. The output of this planning approach was an interactive site Action Plan, and the results illustrate why ATSDR advocates collaboration with the community. Information from 760 survey respondents helped ATSDR focused on health conditions of concern that might be associated with residents’ exposures, and strategies for communicating toxicological evaluations. Working together and guided by an Action Plan, the community and agencies completed a “community-centric” assessment, conducted a community health survey and disseminated the findings, and developed various risk communication materials to address public concerns. 


Learning Objectives:


  1. Identify and define major components of an Action Plan for organizing community-based participatory activities.


  1. Construct and implement an Action Plan to address scientific, health communication, and community participation components.


  1. Become more skillful in use of an Action Plan for synthesizing inputs of health investigations, and for constructing health communications.


Additional Info:


Public Health Assessment Work Group:

Gail Godfrey, Edward Gregory, Steve Inserra, Mark Johnson, Clayton G. Koher, Kristina Larson, Arie Manangan, Robert Watkins (Elkhart County HD),and Michelle Watters.