Online Program

Assessing vapor intrusion and risk from an environmental justice perspective: A mental models approach

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jill Johnston, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Amanda Kramer, School of Public Health, UNC-CH, chapel hill, NC
Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, PhD, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Vapor intrusion, the migration of subsurface contaminants into overlying buildings, is an emerging area of exposure assessment and risk analysis in communities affected by pollution from hazardous waste sites. Recent research has suggested that human exposure to chlorinated solvents via the vapor intrusion pathway exceeds exposure from all other pathways combined. Nonetheless, the study and remediation of the vapor intrusion pathway faces there are numerous technical and policy challenges that are not likely to be resolved in the short term. Thus far, the national conversation has been largely driven by technical consideration, has yet to integrate the experiences, attitudes and opinions of communities likely to be affected by vapor intrusion. Since the study and regulation of indoor air involves an intimate and private space, it is important to understand the belief systems of the local communities.

We conducted qualitative interviews with residents of an environmental justice community in San Antonio, Texas that sits atop a large shallow chlorinated solvent plume. We employed a mental models design that aims to characterize public understanding of indoor air contamination sources and identify what missing information is most critical to the decision-making processes of the public. We conducted semi-structured interviews to determine people's ”mental models” of a particular risk problem--that is, their thought process in evaluating the potential risk they face. The approach allows the interviewees the opportunity to express their ideas, which fits well with a preeminent principle of environmental justice: residents are able to “speak for themselves.” Better understanding how the community understands the information can lead to improvement in content and design of risk communications. We will present the results from the analysis, offer insights into the beliefs of the impacted residents and make recommendations about engaging environmental justice community around vapor intrusion.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Discuss the mental models approach and applicability in environmental justice communities Explain the concern, attitudes and beliefs of a environmental justice community case study related to the issue of vapor intrusion Identify recommendations of policies to improve the integration of communities in the policies regulations regarding vapor intrusion

Keyword(s): Environmental Justice, Environmental Exposures

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: For the past two years, I have done research for two different projects that both focus on qualitative analysis and community perceptions of environmental health research. I have a broad background in qualitative analysis through coding interviews and organizing mental models.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.