Nuwayhid, Iman, Hamdan, Monia, Nasrallah, Rola, Zurayk, Rami and El-Fadel, Mutasem
Lead pollution in an urban community: whose health priority?
At International Forum on Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health.
22 Mar 2004.
Full text not available from this repository.
Objective: A community-based research project is used as a case study to debate the concept of community participation in setting research priorities.
Background: A multidisciplinary team of researchers in health, engineering, and ecosystem management at the American University of Beirut (AUB) conducted a pilot study, funded by IDRC, to investigate lead pollution in a densely populated community in Beirut, Lebanon. It was hypothesized that lead pollution is a major health problem, mainly due to leaded gasoline. Thirty households were visited, where a member of the household was interviewed and blood and environmental samples were collected and analyzed for lead levels. Several meetings with community representatives and interviews with 28 members of the community were also conducted to identify the community’s environmental health (EH) priorities.
Observations: The community specified the emissions from vehicles using diesel fuel, poor water quality, and municipal waste disposal among the leading EH priorities. Leaded gasoline and lead pollution did not make the list. Household cooperation with the lead study was low. Contrary to expectations, blood lead levels and concentration of lead in air/water/dust/food samples were within acceptable international standards.
Discussion: This study is a clear example of the frequent mismatch between researchers’ priorities and that of the community under investigation. The community’s priorities were all sensual and tangible- smell (diesel, solid waste), color (water, diesel), smoke (diesel), and taste (water). Out-of-sight and non-tangible EH problems such as lead pollution fell from the community’s sphere of concern. Researchers face the dilemma of imposing their own agenda or changing direction mid-stream. Is it ethical to educate and raise community awareness about a problem to later investigate it? Or is it a moral duty? How can researchers balance their own needs and objectives with that of the community? The Ecosystem Approach to Environmental Health presents some answers but its application faces the same challenges.
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