Psychosocial effects of PCB contamination and remediation: The case of Smithville, Ontario
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A cross-sectional study design was used to investigate psychosocial effects in the population exposed to PCB contamination and remediation in Smithville, Ontario, Canada. Psychosocial effects were defined as the complex of distress, dysfunction and disability manifested in a wide range of psychological, social and behavioural outcomes as a consequence of actual or perceived contamination. This paper describes the results of logistic regression analyses conducted to investigate the determinants of psychosocial effects of exposure. The data come from an epidemiologic survey of a sample (N = 272) of Smithville households within 3 km of the site, and a sample from a matched comparison community (N = 263). Two types of outcome variables were used as indicators of psychosocial effects. Scores on the general measures of psychosocial health and well-being (the GHQ-20 and the somatic complaints checklist of the SCL-90) for the Smithville sample did not differ from those expected in a 'normal' population, nor did they differ from those in the comparison community. Scores on these outcomes were associated with plausibly linked independent variables, but were not associated with exposure to the PCB site. Results for site-specific outcome measures (concern and health concern) showed that moderate levels of concern reported by Smithville respondents were explained by concern about another local hazardous waste issue and could not be explained by PCB site exposure. We conclude from these results that local community context exerts an important influence on psychosocial effects of environmental contamination. Furthermore, the types of outcome measures employed and the timing of the research in the context of the site history were important factors in our ability to detect psychosocial effects of the PCB contamination and remediation in Smithville.