On 16 October 1996, a malfunction at the Swan Hills Special Waste Treatment Center (SHSWTC) in Alberta, Canada, released an undetermined quantity of persistent organic pollutants to the atmosphere. An ecologically based, staged health risk assessment was conducted to evaluate the human health risk, the findings of which are presented in Part 2, on Ecotoxicology and Human Health Risk. The incident resulted in the largest fine for an environmental infraction in Alberta history up to that time. Despite the incident, the province of Alberta has continued to subsidize the facility and has kept it in operation, with changes in management. The policy rationale is that if the facility were not available, accumulation and possible diversion of hazardous waste into illegal disposal alternatives would threaten the environment much more than operation of the plant. This case study illustrates an ecological approach to risk assessment and an attempted culturally sensitive approach to risk management. Incidents in which people are exposed to toxic substances do not occur in a social vacuum. Risk management strategies must be adapted to groups with different cultural values and expectations. Community and individual responses to such incidents, and the development of health advisory messages, may depend on presenting information on exposure and risk in terms consistent with cultural patterns among subpopulations in the community.

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