Geography & Environment Publications

Explaining the Maintenance of Low Concern Near a Hazardous Waste Treatment Facility

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Journal of Risk Research

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This paper discusses local small town residents’ concerns about risk and safety near a hazardous waste facility at Swan Hills, Alberta, Canada. The majority of the residents studied outwardly express that they have low concern about the facility. The purposes are to both elaborate existing theory that potentially explains low concern and to explore new explanations of low concern in everyday life. Theories or concepts which potentially explain expressed low concern are start-points for this qualitative case study. These include: economic risk theory, psychometric risk theory, cultural risk theory, cognitive dissonance (threat denial), community identity and stigma, and risk attenuation. Thirtyeight in-depth resident interviews involving views of facility risks, as well as community life, are used to better understand the social construction of risk. It is found that despite the fact that 31 residents outwardly insist they have no or low concern about facility risks when first prompted, 11 actually do show latent concerns when probed further, expressed as uncertainty, reservations and doubt. It is argued that juxtaposing the views of insiders against those perceived to be held by outsiders furthers understanding of why facility concern is rarely expressed in such a community. There is a heightened sense of pride and positive community identity manifest as a defensive reaction by insider residents to outsiders who are perceived to hold negative, stigmatizing views of the facility as well as the town. Implications relating to community and industry vigilance as well as the impacts of outsiders sensationalising risk are discussed.

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