Risk, chemicals, and justice

How ‘risk’ and ‘harm’ are defined is always political. That is, these categories do not exist outside in the world but are defined by particular groups of people– scientists, government regulatory boards, public health authorities– who always have preconceived and culturally informed ideas about what it means to be healthy or ‘at risk’.

Inevitably toxic
Inevitably Toxic (2018) Edited by Brinda Sarathy, Vivien Hamilton., & Janet F. Brodie. University of Pittsburgh Press.

That categories of risk and health are not inevitable but historically and socially produced is the subject of Inevitably Toxic: Historical Perspectives on Contamination, Exposure and Expertise a new edited collection out of University of Pittsburgh press. The collection contains essays on a range of topics from x-rays to nuclear waste storage to pesticide use and oil drilling.

It also includes an essay I wrote as part of my previous research on waste in Arctic Canada.  My chapter ‘On Sovereignty, Deficits and Dump Fires: Risk Governance in an Arctic ‘Dumpcano” discusses the controversy of a summer-long dump fire in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Public protests, led by Inuit, reframed what would otherwise be seen as a single, exceptional, catastrophic event, as an effect of ongoing settler colonialism in Nunavut Territory. You can read the chapter, here.

For further reading about contamination, research, and expertise, I’ve also written the following short pieces:

sperm egg plants
From ‘Queering Chemicals’. Image of plants titled ‘Sperm, Egg, Fertilization, Sex Cell‘ Creative Commons Zero – CC0 1.0, Public Domain.


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