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Public Health. 2017 Jan;142:177-185. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2015.07.014. Epub 2015 Aug 19.

Why participation matters for air quality studies: risk perceptions, understandings of air pollution and mobilization in a poor neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Dept. of Planning, Public Policy and Management, 1209 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA. Electronic address:
Reality-Tested Youth Program, Nairobi, Kenya. Electronic address:
Center for Sustainable Urban Development, Earth Institute, Columbia University, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 520, New York, NY 10115, USA. Electronic address:



With high urbanization rates, Sub-Saharan Africa is facing growing problems of poor air quality in its cities. We make a case for participatory approaches in air quality studies especially including those living in poor neighborhoods who may be particularly at risk from this trend.


We used collaboration with a community based organization, interviews, focus group discussions and a community forum.


We conducted a pilot study to assess health risk perceptions of air pollution for civic-minded residents in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. Simultaneously, we involved Mathare residents in measuring levels of PM2.5 and later presented these data at a community forum with the participants of the monitoring study and the focus group discussions.


We found that participation in conducting and interpreting air quality studies helped residents improve their understanding of air pollution and also helped them develop responses to it. Initially, participants associated air pollution with a bad odor or discomfort rather than their health, but once the connection to health was made through participation, they sought more information about air quality data and its hazards. Some residents also came up with strategies for coping with their environment and its risks.


These results point to the potential of including participation in air quality monitoring as a way to increase awareness and support local action to address it. Discussion and sharing of results at the local level as well as at a wider policy level will be critical for advocacy to improve air quality.


Air pollution; Capacity building; Local knowledge; Participatory methodologies; Risk perceptions; Sub-Saharan Africa

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