Background: Substantial research has suggested that exposure to environmental health hazards, such as polluting industrial activity, has deleterious effects on psychological and physiological well-being. However, one gap in the existing literature is comparative analysis of objective and subjective exposure’s relative association with various measurable outcomes of exposure.
Methods: We explored these relationships within a community sample of 2604 respondents living near a large petrochemical complex in Texas City, Texas. We investigated objective exposure using distance of residence from a cluster of petrochemical plants and subjective exposure using residents’ concern about potential health effects of those plants. We then used regression models to examine how each type of exposure predicts perceived stress, physiological markers of stress, and perceived health.
Results: Results suggest that objective exposure was associated primarily with markers of physiological stress (IL-6 and viral reactivation), and subjective exposure (concern about petrochemical health risk) was associated with variables assessing subjective stress and perceived health.
Conclusions: From the analysis we infer that, in the context of an environmental hazard of this type, subjective exposure may be at least as important a predictor of poor health outcomes as objective exposure.