Stressful Environments: Coping with Contamination in Your Community

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Imagine scanning your Facebook feed and learning that toxic chemicals have been discovered in your neighborhood air, water, or soil. You might feel worried and have questions: Is my health at risk? What about my children’s health? Who’s going to fix the problem, and when? Despite your best efforts, you might not find satisfying answers—or not as quickly as you’d like.

Environmental contamination in your community can disrupt life as usual and sometimes lead to stress. Feeling stress is a normal reaction to these unusual and complicated situations. While not all stress is bad, ongoing stress may lead to mental and physical health effects.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has released a new fact sheet  to help community members understand and cope with stress caused by environmental contamination. The fact sheet, available in English and Spanish, includes the following information:

  • Reasons for stress,
  • Common signs of stress,
  • Tips for coping, and
  • Contacts for help.

Ben Gerhardstein, an ATSDR environmental health scientist, helped develop the fact sheet and recently shared it with community members, the local health department, and others in Tucson, Arizona. Some residents on Tucson‘s south side are concerned about potential health effects from drinking water that was contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Ben participated in a community teach-in about the issue, organized by the University of Arizona.

At the event, Ben met Linda Robles, a community leader who noticed the fact sheet on the ATSDR table and shared her story. “This fact sheet resonates with me,” she said. “It’s been many years, but a lot of my friends and neighbors feel stress because of the water contamination. Some people still worry about health effects. And because we’ve lost trust in government, we question the safety of our drinking water. It helps to have a fact sheet that validates our experience.”

ATSDR hopes the fact sheet will be helpful for residents of other communities with concerns about past or current environmental contamination. Additional reference materials on stress caused by environmental contamination are available for health professionals interested in using the fact sheet. Contact Ben ( or Jamie Rayman, ATSDR Region 9 health educator ( to request the materials.

Tweet this: “Read CDC/ATSDR’s “Stressful environments-Coping w/contamination in your community” #CDCEHblog via @CDCEnvironment”

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Page last reviewed: November 13, 2017
Page last updated: November 13, 2017