Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. S. Martin Taylor


This thesis examines community reappraisal of a petroleum refinery in Oakville, Ontario. Residents' concerns about the health impacts from refinery emissions led to a community health study in 1992. The results showed that residents' perceptions of refinery odours were associated with elevated levels of reported ill-health in the community. In response to community concerns, between 1992 and 1997, the refinery implemented extensive measures to reduce odorous emissions. The implementation of these odour reduction measures provided the basis to investigate residents' reappraisal of the refinery following the intervention. The significance of this research is based on a recognition of the importance of the role of the reappraisal process in environmental stress theory, and the relative absence of studies of this process in the environmental stress literature. Hence, using a longitudinal design and mixed-methods (i.e., quantitative and qualitative), the following objectives were addressed: (1) to determine the impacts of emissions from the Oakville Petro Canada refinery on the health and well-being of residents in the surrounding community; (2) to compare the impacts of emissions before (1992) and after (1997) implementation of odour reduction measures; (3) to relate pre-post changes in odour perception/annoyance and ill-health reporting to personal and situational factors; and, (4) to explore residents' responses and coping strategies after the implementation of the odour reduction measures. The quantitative data come from two cross-sectional health surveys across three comparable zones in 1992 (n = 391) and 1997 (n = 427). The quantitative analysis focused on examining changes in impacts, and the determinants of change in relation to the characteristics of the exposure. The qualitative analysis (n = 29), focused on exploring refinery-related experiences, coping strategies and concerns within the broader context of residents' everyday lives. Overall, both the quantitative and qualitative analyses show that despite the improvements in refinery impacts, some residents still view the refinery as a threat to their ways of life. Proximity to the refinery and the mediating role of odour perception and annoyance emerge as strong determinants of the observed changes in refinery effects over time. Uncertainty and lack of trust also emerge as salient factors determining residents' shifting concerns, coping strategies and reappraisal of the refinery. This study makes contributions to the environmental stress theory and risk perception literature by focusing on residents' reappraisal of an environmental stressor in relation to changes in the characteristics of the exposure. The study also makes methodological contributions by demonstrating the value of using mixed-methods in environment and health research. For practice, the persistence of residents' concerns means that the Community Advisory Committee to Petro Canada and the refinery in their risk communication and management efforts, must do more than disclose technical information(complaint statistics) and give due consideration to the way the people respond to risk information. For future research a more explicit focus on how coping strategies vary in different places and with different types of exposures is warranted.

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