DOI: 10.1111/risa.14212 ISSN:

Trust and subjective knowledge influence perceived risk of lead exposure

Madeline Goebel, Chloe B. Wardropper
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


Lead exposure is a persistent environmental hazard that poses risks to human health. But motivating protective action is challenging with this low visibility hazard whose health effects are often subtle and chronic. Higher risk perception is generally associated with taking protective measures, so public health efforts prioritize risk messaging. Yet, little is known about perceptions of lead exposure risk among the U.S. public. Using cross‐sectional data from a national survey of 1035 U.S. residents, we measured the role of trust in government management of lead and subjective knowledge about lead as predictors of perceived risk of lead exposure, controlling for demographic and environmental factors. We also assessed if subjective knowledge moderated the relationship between trust and perceived risk. Our results reveal positive relationships between trust in government management of lead, subjective knowledge about lead, and risk perception, which we attribute in part to the important role government agencies play in secondary prevention, or communicating the risks of environmental lead exposure. We also found that younger people and people living in a house built before lead paint regulations passed in 1978 perceived higher lead risks. Our findings suggest that general communication about lead risks should aim to increase people's subjective knowledge in a consistent and balanced way that improves trust in government messengers.

More from our Archive