Methods to Help Communities Investigate Environmental Health Issues

An Excerpt



Many communities are concerned about the environmental impacts of industrial emissions on their health and local ecosystem. However, some communities are more successful than others in getting environmental health problems addressed. A number of communities have worked with social and scientific researchers doing a form of community based research called popular epidemiology. Several communities that have participated in this kind of research are examined in this paper, including:

  • Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York where barrels of toxic chemicals
    were disposed in a former canal, and
  • Port Maitland, Ontario and Northeast Strathcona County, Alberta, both
    communities that are close to phosphate processing factories.

Each of these communities participated in public hearings, which ultimately produced unsatisfactory outcomes. This paper closes with a methodology for communities to examine how environmental hearings are conducted and how official reports are produced. Hopefully this method will help communities to challenge the process of public hearings.

Getting Answers

Contaminated communities are organizing to find answers to questions that are not being answered by “experts.” They are challenging the validity of government and industry reports, and holding key industry or government officials responsible for their environmental health concerns and problems (Brown et al., 2000). These communities are asking whether experts can be trusted, especially when the expert’s knowledge is so different from the community’s knowledge of living with environmental health problems (Giddens, 1990).

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