‘‘This is the Mess That We Are Living In’’: Residents Everyday Life Experiences of Living in a Stigmatized Community
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This paper is part of a larger community health study aimed at delineating the determinants of health in Sarnia. The paper specifically investigates Sarnia residents’ daily lived experiences, perceptions of and responses to living within the St. Clair River “Area of Concern” (AOC) as designated by the federal government based on the hypothesis that relatively high levels of environmental pollution in the region are negatively influencing human health. Results from in-depth interviews (N = 27) show that residents of Sarnia are conflicted by the elevation of awareness about environmental health threats by being labelled within an AOC. Residents use their emotional and sensual experiences to adopt appropriate coping strategies to live within a contaminated community. In contextualizing their everyday lived realities, residents argued that living in an AOC demands personal acceptance of the conditions in Sarnia and awareness of “bad air days” to cope with pollution exposure. Yet, residents were not willing to abandon Sarnia because of their cultural, social, and economical attachments to the place they call home. These findings suggest the need for local health policies that incorporate local concerns and perceptions of how environmental pollution affects people’s experiences and well-being. There is a necessity to involve community members as central participants in the process of policy making.