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Analyzing patterns of community interest at a legacy mining waste site to assess and inform environmental health literacy efforts

Abstract

Understanding a community’s concerns and informational needs is crucial to conducting and improving environmental health research and literacy initiatives. We hypothesized that analysis of community inquiries over time at a legacy mining site would be an effective method for assessing environmental health literacy efforts and determining whether community concerns were thoroughly addressed. Through a qualitative analysis, we determined community concerns at the time of being listed as a Superfund site. We analyzed how community concerns changed from this starting point over the subsequent years, and whether: (1) communication materials produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other media were aligned with community concerns; and (2) these changes demonstrated a progression of the community’s understanding resulting from community involvement and engaged research efforts. We observed that when the Superfund site was first listed, community members were most concerned with USEPA management, remediation, site-specific issues, health effects, and environmental monitoring efforts related to air/dust and water. Over the next 5 years, community inquiries shifted significantly to include exposure assessment and reduction methods and issues unrelated to the site, particularly the local public water supply and home water treatment systems. Such documentation of community inquiries over time at contaminated sites is a novel method to assess environmental health literacy efforts and determine whether community concerns were thoroughly addressed.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by grant number P42 ES04940 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health. The authors would like to thank the Dewey-Humboldt, AZ, community; the Town of Dewey-Humboldt; Jeff Franklin, Dewey-Humboldt Town Librarian; Jeff Schalau, UA Yavapai Cooperative Extension Director; Dr. Paloma Beamer, MESH investigator; and USEPA Region 9 and AZ Department of Environmental Quality Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site Project Managers and Community Involvement Coordinators, Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, and AZ Department of Health Services. We also thank the current UA SRP Director, Dr. Raina M. Maier, and former Director, Dr. A. Jay Gandolfi. Finally, we thank Drs. Mark Brusseau and Phil Brown for engaging in enlightening discussions regarding the manuscript.

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The authors have none to report.

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Correspondence to Monica D. Ramirez-Andreotta.

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Ramirez-Andreotta, M.D., Lothrop, N., Wilkinson, S.T. et al. Analyzing patterns of community interest at a legacy mining waste site to assess and inform environmental health literacy efforts. J Environ Stud Sci 6, 543–555 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-015-0297-x

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Keywords

  • Environmental health literacy
  • Legacy mining waste
  • Superfund site
  • Hazardous waste site
  • Community-engaged research
  • Community engagement