Communicating Risks After Exposure has Ended: Former Workers' Perspectives on PCBs

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
NEW SOLUTIONS A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy 07/2013; 23(2):347-67. DOI: 10.2190/NS.23.2.i
Source: PubMed


While the importance of worker notification has been widely recognized, little attention has been paid to social and psychological contexts in which worker notification occurs, especially after the exposure has ended. This study explores workers' perspectives on exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a toxic material whose manufacture in the United States ended in 1977. Four focus groups were conducted with former workers (n = 29) who were exposed to PCBs. Verbatim transcriptions were analyzed. Participants considered living in the PCB-contaminated community more dangerous than handling PCBs on the job. While they firmly believed that PCBs in the environment caused serious health problems, participants expressed doubts about the toxicity of PCBs in the workplace. Both beliefs undermined the value of worker notification about occupational exposure to PCBs. A long-term relationship between workers and researchers would provide opportunities to cultivate better understanding of the hazard and facilitate the process of worker notification.

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