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«Living in Contaminated Sites: Which Cost for Psychic Health? Fanny Guglielmucci, PsyD Student* Department of Psychology, University of Turin (Italy) ...»

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Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences

ISSN 2039-2117 (online) Vol 6 No 4 S3

ISSN 2039-9340 (print) August 2015

MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy

Living in Contaminated Sites: Which Cost for Psychic Health?

Fanny Guglielmucci, PsyD Student*

Department of Psychology, University of Turin (Italy) fanny.guglielmucci@unito.it Isabella G. Franzoi, PsyD Student* Department of Psychology, University of Turin (Italy) isabellagiulia.franzoi@unito.com Marco Zuffranieri, PsyD Department of Psychology, University of Turin (Italy) mzuffranieri@gmail.com Antonella Granieri, PsyD Department of Psychology, University of Turin (Italy) antonella.granieri@unito.it Doi:10.5901/mjss.2015.v6n4s3p207 Abstract In this paper, we would like to offer a psychoanalytically oriented perspective on the psychic costs of most documented technological disasters (e.g. oil spill and nuclear accidents) or industrial pollution (e.g. asbestos manufacturing). We report a brief literature review about the relationship between Contaminated Sites (CSs) and mental health. The articles were selected from the most important medical and psychological databases: MEDLINE/Pubmed, PsycINFO and Proquest Psychology Journal. After electronic searches, we have manually reviewed reference lists from the identified publications. Literature review reveals that despite the specific kind of technological disasters (i.e. nuclear accidents, oil spill, asbestos manufacturing), the cost of survival is pretty much the same: anxiety, somatizations, rage, depression and post-traumatic conditions, which undermine one’s own sense of psychic integrity. This cost seems to be even higher when people have to fight an invisible and boundless enemy, which threaten not only themselves but also their own children. Clinicians, mental health services and policy makers need to reflect upon these traumatic conditions in order to activate and promote a thinking process that can give rise to a new capability of containing all the experiential aspects that have remained alien, dissociated and unthinkable until that moment. Qualitative approaches and multi-dimensional analysis could lead a deeper understanding of the psychic dynamics and unconscious life in CSs.

Keywords: Contaminated Site (CS), Social Catastrophes, Mental Health, Massive Trauma, Technological Disaster

1. Introduction Life can be punctuated by several catastrophic events: in some cases, these traumatic events involve only one person or a few individuals – such as serious accidents, threatening life assaults, aggressions or mourning – while in other cases an entire community or even more communities are exposed to social catastrophes.

The latter can be defined as overwhelming situations in which a massive and extreme trauma disrupts the foundations of the Self, such as affectivity, bodily integrity, the basic trust in the outside world, the sense of continuity and of personal agency 1, and the ability to symbolize one’s experience, giving meaning to life beyond trauma. Social catastrophes can also influence the subjective identity and compromise the capacity to engage in authentic and mutual * These authors have contributed in the same part to the literature review and the writing of this paper.

1 Together with Franco Borgogno (2011), from a psychoanalytic perspective, by “agency” we mean the perception of one’s own impact on the others, of one’s personal effectiveness on the others, and the capability of engaging in personal and interpersonal actions.

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relationships with the others (Rosenbaum, & Varvin, 2007).

Literature distinguishes between two main categories of social catastrophes: natural disasters – i.e. rapid or slow onset events that cause natural hazards such as geophysical changes or extreme climatic phenomena, which involve an entire population – and human-made disasters – such as complex emergencies connected to human actions or accidents. Research identifies several kinds of man-made massive traumatization, such as rape, conflict and war, terrorism, industrial pollution, nuclear radiation, etc. These traumatic experiences entail various and multifaceted consequences for the individuals, the community and the entire society: they may cause death, injury, illness or other health outcomes, as well as social and economic disruption or environmental degradation (Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally, 2000; Borgogno F.V., Franzoi, Barbasio, Guglielmucci, & Granieri, In press; Bromet, 2014; Crighton, Elliott, van der Meer, Small, & Upshur, 2003; Erikson, 1994; Freudenburg, 1997; Guglielmucci, Franzoi, Barbasio, Borgogno F.V., & Granieri, 2014; Neria, Nandi, & Galea, 2008; Palinkas, 2012; Rosenbaum, & Varvin, 2007; Volkan, 2004).

We think it is important to point out that even if most of the time these social catastrophes occur because of inhuman actions and irresponsible behaviors perpetrated in the name of profit, sometimes they are the results of accidents and human errors, or they may be secondary effects of natural catastrophes (Yamashita, & Shigemura, 2013;

Niitsu et al., 2014).

Developing a psychological perspective for understanding and responding to mental health effects of potential technological disasters, it is important to consider the peculiar characteristics of these events as well as similarities and differences between technological catastrophes, natural disasters and human disasters (Palinkas, 2012).

In a previous work, we suggested that “the exposure to a pathogen [is] a traumatic event that [can arouse] catastrophic affects, thus entailing the loss of healthy aspects of the Self” (Guglielmucci, Franzoi, Barbasio, Borgogno F.V., Granieri, 2014, p. 1419). These conditions, unpredictable and with long-term and widespread effects, represent a new and complex challenge for health services and clinicians. The exposure to a technological catastrophe has a negative impact on the physical health of the population, but also on its psychological component. Research identifies a variety of psychological variables involved, such as emotional distress, anxiety, somatization, depression, disruption of social relations, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally, 2000; Barnes, Baxter, Litva, & Staples, 2002; Drescher, Schulenberg, & Smith, 2014; Granieri, 2008; 2013; Granieri et al., 2013; Grattan, Roberts, Mahan, McLaughlin, Otwell, & Glenn, 2011; Neria, Nandi, & Galea, 2008; O’Leary, & Covell, 2002; Osofsky, Osofsky, & Hansel, 2011; Palinkas, Petterson, Russell, & Downs, 1993; Sabucedo, Arce, Senra, Seoane, & Vázquez, 2010; Yen et al., 2014). In addition, living in a CS has a great impact on the population’s real and perceived risk of contamination exposure for the health status (Barnes, Baxter, Litva, & Staples, 2002; Crighton, Elliott, van der Meer, Small, & Upshur, 2003; Downey, & Willigen, 2005; Foster, & Goldstein, 2007). Moreover, even after the crisis is concluded, many individuals who have endured catastrophic trauma remain uncertain about having psychologically survived.

In this paper, we would like to focus our attention upon technological hazards originating from specific industrial conditions (i.e. nuclear radiation and industrial pollution) and to offer a psychoanalytically oriented perspective on the psychic costs of surviving and living in such a devastating reality. Our main intention is to underline the effects of most documented technological disasters (e.g. oil spill and industrial incidents such as the ones occurred in Chernobyl or Fukushima) or industrial pollution (e.g. asbestos manufacturing) on psychic health.

For this reason, we think it is important to report a brief literature review about the impact on mental health of technological disasters in relation to the type of event occurred. Our focus is on the most relevant literature that explores the relationship between CSs and psychological consequences of living there. The articles were selected from the most important medical and psychological databases: MEDLINE/Pubmed, PsycINFO and Proquest Psychology Journal.

Electronic searches were conducted combining the following search terms: “environmental contamination”;

“environmental exposure”; “environmental pollution”; “contaminated site”; “industrial contamination”; “industrial accident”;

“asbestos”; “technological disaster”; “technological accident” AND “psychological impact”; “emotional distress”. Finally, this search was augmented by manually reviewing reference lists from the identified publications.

2. Contaminated Sites and Mental Health: A Brief Literature Review

2.1 Oil Spill Disasters During the years, several oil spill disasters have occurred all over the world. Taking into account only the major oil spills, the oldest one is the Torrey Canyon oil spill occurred on March 18th, 1967 in the Isles of Scilly (UK), which created an oil slick measuring 270 square miles, contaminating 180 miles of coastland. Whereas, one of the latest ones is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – also known as the Gulf oil spill - the largest in U.S. history. The Deepwater Horizon was a

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semi-submersible drilling rig, sank on April 22nd, 2010 after an explosion on the vessel. After several unsuccessful attempts to plug the well, oil flowed for more than 85 days reaching 572 miles of Gulf shoreline.

As we can see from the examples mentioned above, this kind of man-made disasters are characterized by the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment – usually marine areas – and by an acute phase of pollution longer than the one that characterizes other types of disasters. Besides environment, oil spill disasters entail traumatic consequences also for the community involved, which have been defined as toxic or corrosive communities because of their prolonged oil exposure (Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally, 2000; Baum, 1993; Baum, & Fleming, 1993;

Brown, & Mikkelsen, 1997; Drescher, Schulenberg, & Smith, 2014; Picou, Marshall, & Gill, 2004). In these communities, we can trace profound feelings of rage and revenge, which often lead their members to undertake litigation aimed at seeking compensation for suffered damages (Picou, Marshall, & Gill, 2004). The oil exposure has a deep impact on not only the resident populations’ mental functioning, but also on community relationships. For people living there, it can be very harsh to cope with these traumatic situations: they can feel that they are almost alone in facing these dramatic circumstances, that they lack an adequate social support (Arata, Picou, Johnson, & McNally, 2000; Drescher, Schulenberg, & Smith, 2014). Often their trust in institutions, public officials and policy makers starts to waver (Couch, 1996; Erikson, 1994; Freudenburg, 1997).

Oil spill disasters have long-term consequences on the psyche: the results of a study conducted by Arata and colleagues (2000) after the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in 1989 in Alaska reveals that one-fifth of subjects involved in the research developed clinically significant anxiety symptoms and over one-third showed significant symptoms of depression or PTSD. Moreover, it seems that also the amount of time one is immersed in such a toxic environment has a significant influence on mental functioning: indeed, members of communities exposed to oil spill for a longer time referred higher levels of generalized anxiety disorder, PSTD and depression (Palinkas, Petterson, Russell, & Downs, 1993).

These findings seem to be supported by a recent study conducted on inhabitants of several locations along the coast of Galicia where the Prestige oil tanker sank in 2002 polluting thousands of kilometers of the Spanish, French and Portuguese coastline. (Sabucedo, Arce, Senra, Seoane & Vázquez, 2010). This research discloses that individuals living nearby this CSs show a higher tendency to somatization, as well as more intense feelings of anxiety and hostility, a worse perceived physical health and a lower functional capacity. Furthermore, from a clinical perspective it is important to take into account that even communities only indirectly involved in oil spills pay a huge psychic cost reporting levels of psychological distress and depressive feelings similar to the ones that characterize communities directly exposed to this kind of social catastrophes (Grattan, Roberts, Mahan, McLaughlin, Otwell, & Glenn, 2011).

As we suggested before, massive trauma can also compromise the ability to engage with others in both the personal and occupational domain. From this perspective, oil spills open the door to emotional distress, post-traumatic symptoms and other symptoms variously connected to psychic suffering and to mental health impairments. Furthermore, their impact seems to be more profound and severe for people who undergo the disruption of social and relational ties (Osofsky, Osofsky, & Hansel, 2011).

A recent study conducted by Drescher, Schulenberg, and Smith (2014) seems to corroborate these results. This study was aimed at investigating the impact of the Gulf oil spill on the psychic health and involved a large clinical sample (1,119 people). For people living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast this technological disaster has represented a traumatic event difficult to cope with, which gave rise to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic conditions. Thirty-nine percent of the sample showed clinically significant post-traumatic stress symptoms connected to the oil spill, symptoms which compromised and depauperated also social relationships.

2.2 Industrial Accidents

Living near industries and factories frequently offers economic well-being and prosperity to the individuals and the entire community, but when environmental hazards occur, there is a huge risk of psychic health and social ties “corrosion”, thus creating what we can define as contaminated communities (Bush, Moffatt, & Dunn, 2001).

In a recent literature review of papers published between 1980 and 2012, Pascal and colleagues (2013) focus on studies investigating the chronic effects of air pollution in large industrial areas. The authors underline that although many research highlight the impact on physic health (i.e. cancer and increased mortality rate), only three of them take into account the impact that a toxic environment could have on a mental level.

In the first research through a qualitative and bottom-up approach Bush and colleagues (Bush, Moffatt, & Dunn,

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