Anthropologist explores how, when toxins ‘matter’
In February 2011, an Ecuadorian judge awarded rural plaintiffs $9 billion in a 17-year-long lawsuit against the Chevron Corporation.
The lawsuit alleged that between 1964 and 1990, Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) spewed industrial wastes throughout its oil concession. Plaintiffs claimed that industrial wastes endangered the local ecology and undermined human health.
The episode is the subject of a talk by Suzana Sawyer, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Davis, who will speak on Friday, April 27, at 4 p.m. in Hale Sciences 230 on campus.
At the core of the legal proceedings (as it surely will be in coming judicial appeals) was the capacity to materialize or dematerialize the presence of toxic elements, derivative of Texaco’s operations, in the region’s soil and water systems 40-odd years after crude production began.
Although the presence of crude and its by-products in the environment was not in question, the very toxicity of these elements was.
“In this talk, I explore the imbricated legal-technical-chemical work that allowed toxins to matter, or not,” Sawyer states.
“In particular, I read the technical reports produced by the plaintiffs’, defendant’s, and court-appointed legal experts analyzing water and soil samples from alleged contaminated sites against transformations in EPA and industry science and regulation in the United States. Doing so helps unravel the socio-material formation of toxicity and risk.
“At issue, I suggest, in determining toxicity are interrelations among judicial, scientific, and molecular processes: how the admissibility and positioning of evidence and the spatial/temporal complexity of hydrocarbon compounds allow for multiple determinations of crude oil that index distinct toxic and non-toxic realities.”
Sawyer’s talk is free and open to the public and is presented by CU-Boulder Cultural Anthropology Graduate Speaker Series Committee. Refreshments will follow the talk.
For more information, contact Lindsay.Ofrias@colorado.edu.