The Power of Perception: Health Risk Attributed to Air Pollution in anUrban Industrial Neighbourhood

Authors

  • Susan J. Elliott,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1 Canada.
    2. McMaster Institute of Environment and Health, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
      To whom all correspondence should be addressed; elliotts@mcmaster.ca
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  • Donald C. Cole,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1 Canada.
    2. McMaster Institute of Environment and Health, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
      To whom all correspondence should be addressed; elliotts@mcmaster.ca
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  • Paul Krueger,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
      To whom all correspondence should be addressed; elliotts@mcmaster.ca
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  • Nancy Voorberg,

    1. Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Public Health Department, 25 Main St. West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
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  • Sarah Wakefield

    1. School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1 Canada.
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To whom all correspondence should be addressed; elliotts@mcmaster.ca

Abstract

This paper describes a multi-stakeholder process designed to assess thepotential health risks associated with adverse air quality in an urban industrial neighborhood. The paper briefly describes the quantitative health risk assessment conducted by scientific experts, with input by a grassroots community group concerned about the impacts of adverse air quality on theirhealth and quality of life. In this case, rather than accept the views of the scientific experts, the community used their powers of perception toadvantage by successfully advocating for a professionally conducted community health survey. This survey was designed to document, systematically and rigorously, the health risk perceptions community members associated with exposure to adverse air quality in their neighborhood. This paper describes theinstitutional and community contexts within which the research is situated as well as the design, administration, analysis, and results of the community health survey administered to 402 households living in an urban industrial neighborhood in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. These survey results served tolegitimate the community's concerns about air quality and tohelp broaden operational definitions of ‘health.’ In addition, the resultsof both healthrisk assessment exercises served to keep issues of air quality on the localpolitical agenda. Implications of these findings for our understanding of theenvironmental justice process as well as the ability of communitiesto influence environmental health policy are discussed.

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