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Environmental Health Priorities of Residents and Environmental Health Professionals: Implications for Improving Environmental Health Services in Rural Versus Urban Communities.

Previous research has suggested differences between public and professional understanding of the field of environmental health (EH) and the role of EH services within urban and rural communities. This study investigated EH priority differences between 1) rural and urban residents and 2) residents and EH professionals, and presents quantitative and qualitative methods for establishing locality-specific EH priorities. Residents ( N = 588) and EH professionals ( N = 63) in Alabama identified EH priorities via a phone or online survey. We categorized rurality of participant residences by rural-urban commuting area codes and population density, and tested whether or not EH priorities were different between urban and rural residents. Built environment issues, particularly abandoned houses, and air pollution were high priorities for urban residents-whereas, water and sanitation issues, and paper mill-related pollution were high priorities in rural communities. EH professionals ranked food safety and water and sanitation issues as higher priorities than residents did. Results highlight the importance of urbanicity on environmental risk perception and the utility of simple and inexpensive engagement methods for understanding these differences. Differences between residents and EH professionals suggest improving stakeholder participation in local-level EH decision making might lead to greater awareness of EH services, which might in turn improve support and effectiveness of those services.

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