This paper reports the experience of a participatory project in environmental epidemiology, formally initiated in 2015 and still underway, in Manfredonia, southern Italy. We provide some
background information and justification for our choice of a participatory model of investigation, and summarize the antecedents to our involvement, from the siting of a petrochemical plant in the area in 1971 to a series of events which triggered public discontent, concern and unrest.
We proceed by providing a description and discussion of the various steps of our study, focusing mainly on the dynamics of public engagement.
The initial disappointment and mistrust of concerned citizens have been reduced. The consequent dialogue led to a shared research protocol. Each step of the research has been made public and accessible.
We conclude with some remarks on our experience and the lessons we are drawing from it, including the challenges for its possible replication. The participatory project contributed to promoting public engagement and restoring some trust in scientific research.