Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


Environmental Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dwayne E. Porter


A Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) is a complex natural event that occurs when algae is in its growth stage and creates a harmful toxin as waste. HABs create both ecologic and public health challenges. The hypothesis of this thesis is that state and federal governments have different readability scores when compared side-by-side as measured by Simple Measures of Gobbledygook (SMOG). Because governments are the entity that most often claims responsibility for shared resources, this case study represents a snapshot of current governmental messaging about HABs in the South Atlantic states. These states have a long history of HAB events in both fresh and marine water environments. Intense urbanization, nutrient loading, increasing water temperatures, and ocean acidification have all contributed to increased recorded HAB events in recent years. As this region continues to face booming population growth, the issue of HABs will continue to play a role in the development and exploitation of coastal communities.

The scientific community often grapples with the difficulties of disseminating evidence-based messaging to a lay public audience. One emerging field in environmental health sciences is environmental health literacy (EHL). As a discipline, EHL rests between environmental science and health communication. Sources for this online content analysis were obtained using a targeted search of both South Atlantic state websites and federal agencies concerned with HABs and their effects on human health. 90 webpages were identified from state (n=38) federal agencies (n=42), as well as non-governmental organizations (n=10). The average SMOG score of all 90 sources is an 11th grade reading level (10.7) with a standard deviation of 2.78. This content analysis reflects the complexity of scientific communication. However, as evaluation and improvement are the final steps in any public health programming, evaluation needs to be undertaken in all EHL programming in order to properly protect the public from known toxicologic and environmental health risks.