Environmental Risk Perceptions and Community Health: Arsenic, Air Pollution, and Threats to Traditional Values of the Hopi Tribe

Brian Mayer, Lorencita Joshweseoma, Gregory Sehongva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


American Indian and Alaska Native populations experience chronic disparities in a wide range of health outcomes, many of which are associated with disproportionate exposures to environmental health hazards. In the American Southwest, many indigenous tribes experience challenges in securing access to sustainable and safe sources of drinking water, limiting air pollution emissions on and off tribal lands, and cleaning up hazardous contaminants left over from a legacy of natural resource extraction. To better understand how households perceive the risk of exposure to potential environmental health risks, we conducted six focus groups organized by age and geographic location on the Hopi reservation. Focus group participants (n = 41) were asked to reflect on changes in their natural and manmade environment and how their health might be influenced by any potential changes. By investigating these environmental risk perceptions, we were able to identify arsenic in drinking water and indoor air quality as significant exposures of concern. These risk perceptions were frequently anchored in personal and familial experiences with health problems such as cancer and asthma. Older focus group participants identified ongoing shifts away from tradition and cultural practices as increasing environmental health risks. Similar to other communities economically dependent on the extraction of natural resources, focus group participants described the need for behavioral modifications regarding environmental health risks rather than eliminating the sources of potential health risks entirely. Our results suggest the need for including traditional values and practices in future interventions to reduce environmental health risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)896-902
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Community Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 15 2019


  • Air pollution
  • American Indian and Native Alaskan
  • Arsenic
  • Environmental health
  • Focus groups
  • Risk perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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