Exploring community psychosocial stress related to per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination: Lessons learned from a qualitative study

Eric E. Calloway, Alethea L. Chiappone, Harrison J. Schmitt, Daniel Sullivan, Ben Gerhardstein, Pamela G. Tucker, Jamie Rayman, Amy L. Yaroch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to qualitatively explore the per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure experience and associated stressors, to inform public health efforts to support psychosocial health and resilience in affected communities. Semi-structured interviews (n = 9) were conducted from July–September 2019 with community members and state public health department representatives from areas with PFAS-contaminated drinking water. Thematic analysis was completed and themes were described and summarized. Reported stressors included health concerns and uncertainty, institutional delegitimization and associated distrust, and financial burdens. Interviewees provided several strategies to reduce stress and promote stress coping capacity and resilience, including showing empathy and validating the normalcy of experiencing stress; building trust through visible action and sustained community engagement; providing information and actionable guidance; discussing stress carefully; fostering stress coping capacity and resilience with opportunities to build social capital and restore agency; and building capacity among government agencies and health care providers to address psychosocial stress. While communities affected by PFAS contamination will face unavoidable stressors, positive interactions with government responders and health care providers may help reduce negative stress. More research on how best to integrate community psychosocial health and stress coping and resilience concepts into the public health response to environmental contamination could be helpful in addressing these stressors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8706
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Community engagement
  • Environmental contamination
  • Mental health
  • Psychosocial stress
  • Public health response
  • Stress coping capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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