Assessment of Community Contamination: A Critical Approach Academic Article uri icon


  • The purpose of this paper is to review data from two Superfund sites and describe the latitude of interpretation of "environmental risk" by residents living in the area, governmental agencies, and the media. The first community was located within a 5-mi perimeter of the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site (RFETS) outside Denver, Colorado. The second community was located on the south side of Tucson, Arizona, adjacent to the Tucson International Airport area (TIAA) Superfund site. Critical theory was the perspective used in this analysis and proposal of public health actions to attain social justice. Differences between the two populations' experiences with risk and contamination coincided with divergent levels of trust in government. RFETS residents demanded monitoring, whereas the minority residents at TIAA were ambivalent about their trust in government cleanup activities. Unraveling the purpose of "facts" and the social force of "truth" can direct nurses to address environmental justice issues. By policing governmental and business activities in halting or cleaning up environmental contamination, nurses may become mouthpieces for the concerns underlying the fragile surface of "virtual trust" in contaminated communities. Cutting through competing rhetoric to police environmental safety, the core function of assurance becomes what nurses do, not what they say.

publication date

  • September 2002