Open Access (free)
Environmental justice and citizen science in a post-truth age
Editors: Thom Davies and Alice Mah

This book examines the relationship between environmental justice and citizen science, focusing on enduring issues and new challenges in a post-truth age. Debates over science, facts, and values have always been pivotal within environmental justice struggles. For decades, environmental justice activists have campaigned against the misuses of science, while at the same time engaging in community-led citizen science. However, post-truth politics has threatened science itself. This book makes the case for the importance of science, knowledge, and data that are produced by and for ordinary people living with environmental risks and hazards. The international, interdisciplinary contributions range from grassroots environmental justice struggles in American hog country and contaminated indigenous communities, to local environmental controversies in Spain and China, to questions about “knowledge justice,” citizenship, participation, and data in citizen science surrounding toxicity. The book features inspiring studies of community-based participatory environmental health and justice research; different ways of sensing, witnessing, and interpreting environmental injustice; political strategies for seeking environmental justice; and ways of expanding the concepts and forms of engagement of citizen science around the world. While the book will be of critical interest to specialists in social and environmental sciences, it will also be accessible to graduate and postgraduate audiences. More broadly, the book will appeal to members of the public interested in social justice issues, as well as community members who are thinking about participating in citizen science and activism. Toxic Truths includes distinguished contributing authors in the field of environmental justice, alongside cutting-edge research from emerging scholars and community activists.

Open Access (free)
Tackling environmental injustice in a post-truth age
Thom Davies and Alice Mah

the production of knowledge, and the place of science within society, is thus well timed to respond to these debates. Toxic Truths examines the role of science, politics, and values in the global struggle against environmental injustice, from e-­waste extraction in urban Ghana to “strongly participatory” citizen science in southern France; from toxic tours in Ecuador to “soft confrontation” in China. By using the phrase “toxic truths” we highlight the heterogeneity of perspectives about pollution, which are rarely fixed, certain, or uncontested. Yet we also

in Toxic truths
Open Access (free)
Thom Davies

environmental justice, if injustice is built on a bedrock of political inequality? These are some of the questions explored by the authors in the final section of Toxic Truths. Citizen science refers to research that is performed by, and in the interests of, citizens. In the context of environmental justice, citizen science means adopting technoscientific practices by the public themselves to measure, assess, and sometimes protest their concerns about the environment. Though citizen science may sometimes ape formal ­science – ­ventriloquizing its symbolic ­capital – ­it also

in Toxic truths
Open Access (free)
Thom Davies

environmental damage can be found in fenceline stories of mysterious sickness and lost relatives, with the graveyard becoming a reluctant archive of contested and occluded exposure. And herein lies the problem: How can individuals, when faced with the peculiar opacity of pollution, bear witness to its impacts? Which senses do we rely upon when we are confronted by toxic hazards? Moreover, which perspectives and epistemologies are silenced in environmental justice struggles, and how might we broaden our framework of creating toxic truths? These questions are put into sharp

in Toxic truths
Open Access (free)
Alice Mah

success stories of participatory citizen science while highlighting the need for enduring struggles. However, citizen-­led environmental justice victories, where corporations or state actors are held legally responsible for costs of compensation, clean-­up, or relocation, typically only occur in extreme cases of negligence (Bullard and Wright 2009). Following the uneven geography of toxic hazards, the environmental justice “wins” also correspond to “losses” in other places, as toxic hazards move to communities with weaker political voices. Part III of Toxic Truths

in Toxic truths
Open Access (free)
Alice Mah

experience, this chapter offers reflections on historical legacies, lessons learned, and future challenges for CBPR in relation to entrenched corporate interests and environmental injustices in North Carolina. This first part of Toxic Truths demonstrates the extraordinary potential of CBPR for environmental justice advocacy, from the public discovery of emerging contaminants, to the policy impacts of “strongly participatory” environmental health research in a contested French industrial region, to the enduring struggles over environmental justice near concentrated toxic

in Toxic truths
Open Access (free)
Community-based research amid oil development in South Los Angeles
Bhavna Shamasunder, Jessica Blickley, Marissa Chan, Ashley Collier-Oxandale, James L. Sadd, Sandy Navarro, Nicole J. Wong and Michael Hannigan

The Los Angeles basin contains one of the highest concentrations of crude oil in the world. Today, thousands of active wells are located among a dense population of 10 million people. In poor communities and communities of color, distances between wells and residences, schools, and healthcare facilities is closer than in wealthier neighborhoods. These communities are further exposed to contamination via outdated emissions equipment. In partnership with two South Los Angeles community-based organizations, we gathered data on health and experiences of living near to oil wells. The partnership utilized a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to conduct bilingual surveys of 205 residences within 1,500 feet of the oil field and used low-cost sensors to measure methane emissions, correlated to CARB’s (California Air Resources Board) emissions inventory. Rates of asthma as diagnosed by a physician were significantly higher (18%) than in Los Angeles County (11%); 45% of respondents had no knowledge that they lived near active oil development; and 63% of residents reported they would not know how to contact the local regulatory authority. This research is part of an ongoing effort to support community organizing to establish a health and safety buffer between active urban oil development and neighborhoods.

in Toxic truths
The “Clean City” law in São Paulo, Brazil
Marina Da Silva

This chapter discusses “visual pollution” by using São Paulo’s “Cidade Limpa” (Clean City) law as a case study. The law, enacted in 2007, aims to fight “visual pollution” yet fails to define the term. The project builds on work Da Silva previously conducted in São Paulo’s public space. By identifying different viewpoints and enactments of “visual pollution,” this chapter analyzes how interdisciplinary methodologies and public engagement can connect different types of expertise to explore what is understood as visual pollution, and furthermore its relation to the ownership of public space and urban environment. The methodology used in the research questions epistemologically the power relations existent in the idea of pollution and public well-being raised by the law. Finally, this chapter discusses the relationship between São Paulo’s social structure, environmental justice, and the idea of visual pollution.

in Toxic truths
Peter C. Little

Drawing on ethnographic research in Agbogbloshie, an urban scrapyard in Accra, Ghana that has become the subject of a contentious global electronic waste (e-waste) narrative, this chapter explores the extent to which participatory photography augments contemporary toxic studies in general and e-waste studies in particular. The chapter contends that engaging with participatory visualization and documentation can provide vital contextualization for debates grappling with the toxic injustices and environmental politics of e-waste labor. It explores how and why visual techniques in participatory action research matter in global environmental justice studies in general and postcolonial e-waste studies in Ghana in particular. The chapter engages several questions, including: What happens when e-waste workers are involved image makers? What does this participatory photography do to and for representations of Agbogbloshie? To what extent can this alternative visualization shift understandings of a place and space that has become a central node of global e-wasteland and digital pollution narratives? Moreover, how does engagement with this alternative approach to witnessing and knowing e-waste draw attention to or renew critical discussion of researcher positionality and ethnographic reflexivity?

in Toxic truths
Open Access (free)
Strategic actions of an environmental organization in China
Xinhong Wang and Yuanni Wang

This chapter is a case study of an environmental protection volunteers’ organization based in Hunan Province of China. Analyzing actions taken by the organization, the chapter discusses how “pushback” and negotiation are two major strategies for promoting public interest and solving environmental problems. Aiming to continuously and effectively push local government to rectify environmental problems, the environmental organization uses the media as a platform and pushback as a strategy to attract government attention and form an inter-dependable relationship and a soft confrontation between themselves and the government. During the process of negotiating with the government, they also continue with the strategy of pushback to maintain the upper hand, thus achieving a balance of autonomy and dependency. The chapter concludes that this integrated strategy of pushback and negotiation, in a form “soft confrontation,” has played an effective role in the interactions between the environmental organization and the government.

in Toxic truths