Chronic environmental contamination: A narrative review of psychosocial health consequences, risk factors, and pathways to community resilience

Daniel Sullivan, Harrison J. Schmitt, Eric E. Calloway, Whitney Clausen, Pamela Tucker, Jamie Rayman, Ben Gerhardstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

A body of psychological and social scientific evidence suggests that the experience of technological disaster or long-term exposure to environmental contamination can be psychologically stressful. Addressing the psychosocial impact in communities living with chronic contamination is therefore a vital part of improving their resilience. Guided by a synthetic theoretical model of the unique psychosocial impact of chronic environmental contamination (in contrast to natural and technological disasters, and background pollution), we undertook a narrative review to assess the current research on this important social problem. Relevant qualitative peer-reviewed studies and grey literature were examined to derive a model identifying likely factors increasing risk for distress in chronic contamination experience and actions that may be taken by public health professionals and local leaders to enhance community resilience and take health-protective actions. Based on our initial theoretical model and the literature reviewed, we emphasize the importance of considering both the material and social dimensions of chronic environmental contamination experience. For instance, our review of the qualitative literature suggests that individuals who attribute material health impacts to contamination, and who have the social experience of their concerns being delegitimized by responsible institutions, are most at risk for psychological stress. Psychological stress in the context of chronic contamination is an important potential public health burden and a key area for additional research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113877
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume276
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2021

Keywords

  • Community resilience
  • Environmental contamination
  • Psychosocial
  • Public health
  • Stress
  • Technological disaster

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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