Table of Contents Author Guidelines Submit a Manuscript
Journal of Environmental and Public Health
Volume 2015, Article ID 189526, 7 pages
Research Article

Are Healthcare Providers Asking about Environmental Exposures? A Community-Based Mixed Methods Study

Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, School of Public Health, University of Louisville, 485 East Gray Street, Louisville, KY 40202, USA

Received 1 August 2015; Accepted 17 September 2015

Academic Editor: Terry Tudor

Copyright © 2015 Kristina M. Zierold and Clara G. Sears. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


People living near environmental hazards may develop symptoms and health conditions that require specialized monitoring and treatment by healthcare providers. One emerging environmental hazard is coal ash. Coal ash is comprised of small particles containing heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and radioactive elements. The overall purpose of this study was to explore whether healthcare providers ask patients if they live near an environmental hazard like coal ash storage sites and to assess what health conditions prompt a provider inquiry. Focus groups were conducted in 2012 and a cross-sectional survey was administered in 2013. Overall, 61% of survey respondents reported that their healthcare providers never asked if they lived near an environmental hazard. One focus group member stated “No, they don’t ask that. They just always blame stuff on you….” Respondents with asthma and other lung conditions were significantly more likely to be asked by a healthcare provider if they lived near an environmental hazard. Due to the unique exposures from environmental hazards and the low prevalence of patients being asked about environmental hazards, we recommend that healthcare providers take environmental health histories in order to understand patients’ exposures, to monitor symptoms of exposure, and to assist with education about reducing exposure.