American Sociological Association

The Exposure Experience: Ohio River Valley Residents Respond to Local Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Contamination

This article explores the "exposure experience" of participants who received their personal results in a biomonitoring study for perfluorooctanoic acid. Exposure experience is the process of identifying, understanding, and responding to chemical contamination. When biomonitoring studies report results to participants, those participants generate an exposure experience that identifies hidden contaminants and helps level informational imbalances between polluters and affected communities. Participants welcomed the opportunity to learn their exposure results, reporting no psychological harm following report-back. They wove health, economic, and political considerations into their interpretation of results and their present views of past impact. Participants framed their experiences by a half-century of dependence on the chemical industry’s economic benefits, leading them to considerable acceptance of chemical exposure as a tradeoff for jobs and the local economy. Our findings show that the exposure experience is an ongoing process that influences social action, with new activism being generated by exposure and health studies.


Judge, J. M., Brown, P., Brody, J. G., Ryan, S.





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