Perceptions of Environmental Health Risks and Communication Barriers among Low-SEP and Racial/Ethnic Minority Communities

Despite a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards in lower socioeconomic positions (SEP) and racial/ethnic minority communities, research suggests that such communities may have concerns about environmental risks different from those of their higher SEP and White counterparts. These groups also face disproportionate barriers to accessing and utilizing public health information. Little work has focused on the environmental risk communication barriers that low-SEP minorities face. This paper reports on the results of seven focus groups conducted in three low-SEP Massachusetts communities, with an over-sample of racial/ethnic minorities. We explored (1) definitions of the environment, (2) perceptions of environmental health effects, (3) information-seeking behaviors around these issues, and (4) challenges to accessing and utilizing information. The local environment shapes these communities' perceptions of environmental risks; they face considerable barriers to accessing, understanding, and utilizing other sources of information about environmental health risks. We discuss the implications for future targeted campaigns to reduce negative impacts of environmental health risks.