Over the last two decades, an increased understanding of the extent of pesticide contamination of organic collections in museums, particularly natural science and ethnographic collections, has developed. This paper explores the intellectual and emotional responses to messages about pesticide risks in museums and reports on the impact of wording on risk warnings. Six risk phrases using different terminology but intended to represent the same danger of pesticide contamination were evaluated by 103 museum staff. We found that how a message was delivered, the degree of science education of users, and phrases associated with hazards affected how a message was perceived. The delivery of risk warnings and the effective communication of collections-based hazards in museums are essential to responsible collections use, particularly those of scientific (Natural History) and cultural (Ethnographic) importance, where collections are most likely to be contaminated with hazardous substances. The results presented are a first step to understanding how the communication of pesticide risks in museums is understood by users of the collections. By understanding how a message is perceived, we provide advice to museum staff about language use for risk communication projects and management of behaviors.

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Author notes

Associate Editor.— Christine Johnson