Date of Award

Summer 2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science - (Ph.D.)

Department

Chemistry and Environmental Science

First Advisor

Zeyuan Qiu

Second Advisor

Mei R. Fu

Third Advisor

Joseph W. Bozzelli

Fourth Advisor

Nancy L. Jackson

Fifth Advisor

Raul P. Lejano

Abstract

Research on Environmental Justice (EJ) communities has focused on quantitative assessment of environmental hazards and general physical health problems. Little is known about how individuals living in EJ communities perceive their environmental risks and how they reduce environmental risks. The purpose of the study is to explore and describe the perceived environmental risks and the experience of reducing environmental risk among individuals living in an EJ community.

A qualitative and longitudinal design with a descriptive phenomenological method is used to recruit 23 participants living in a known EJ community in the urban area of New Jersey. A total of 43 in-depth interviews are completed, audio taped, and transcribed. Interview transcripts and field notes are the data sources. Data are analyzed to identify the essential structure of the experience within and across cases.

Participants describe their awareness of the environmental pollutions in their community. Facing the environmental risks has elicited a variety of emotional distress. Emotional distress is heightened when they perceive that their concerns are not heard and when personal and community efforts are ineffective to improve the community condition. Yet, from such a life-world has emerged individuals' intentions, that is, individuals' consciousness of effort, to reduce the environmental risk. The essential intentions have been revealed: reducing personal exposure to environmental risks, trying to work with the community to improve environmental conditions, and taking individual action to improve the community. The study has provided new insights into the experience of living in an EJ community. Future research and policy making should focus on strategies that incorporate individuals' perceptions and intentions to develop community specific environmental policy and action plans to reduce the distress of individuals living in EJ communities and enhance individuals' intentions.

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