Public fear of environmental problems from toxic chemicals to toxic microbes can lead to overreaction in consumer behavior and public policy. When the dinoflagellate Pfiesteria piscicida became synonymous with water quality degradation in the Chesapeake Bay and was linked to human health concerns, the agricultural and environmental communities were polarized. Public fear in spite of relatively low risk led to the passage of the Water Quality Improvement Act in 1998. An Extension education program to reduce public fear and clarify the science is presented as a case study of Extension education in the midst of conflict over environmental issues.

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