A Fresh Look at Stress and Resilience in Communities Affected by Environmental Contamination
By Ben Gerhardstein, Pamela G. Tucker, Jamie Rayman, and Christopher M. Reh
Journal of Environmental Health
April 5, 2021
From toxic waste in Love Canal, New York, to lead in Flint, Michigan, environmental contamination can cause chronically elevated psychosocial stress (see sidebar) in individuals and across families and communities (Cuthbertson, Newkirk, Loveridge, & Skidmore, 2016; Edelstein, 2004; Levine, 1983). Stress is a normal reaction to environmental contamination, not a mental health disorder. Still, stress can affect people’s health and quality of life. Environmental contamination can cause psychosocial stress among affected community members for many reasons, including:
• Uncertainty: At the individual level, people might not know whether, at what level or for how long, they were exposed. Moreover, scientists and physicians might be uncertain about the possible health effects of exposure.
• Health and safety concerns: At a family level, parents might worry about their children’s health. They might feel their home is not a safe place anymore.
• Social conflict: At the community level, there can be discord between community members who have differing beliefs about the seriousness of the threat.
In addition, lengthy environmental and health investigations, loss of trust in institutions, financial strains, and other concerns associated with environmental contamination are sources of stress.
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