The Power of Perception: Health Risk Attributed to Air Pollution in anUrban Industrial Neighbourhood
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This paper describes a multi-stakeholder process designed to assess the potential 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 their health and quality of life. In this case, rather than accept the views of the scientific experts, the community used their powers of perception to advantage 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 the institutional 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 to legitimate the community's concerns about air quality and to help broaden operational definitions of 'health.' In addition, the results of both health risk assessment exercises served to keep issues of air quality on the local political agenda. Implications of these findings for our understanding of the environmental justice process as well as the ability of communities to influence environmental health policy are discussed.
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