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

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)
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)
Science, activism, and policy concerning chemicals in our bodies
Phil Brown, Vanessa De La Rosa, and Alissa Cordner

This chapter situates issues of environmental contamination and contested knowledge within the history of environmental justice and popular epidemiology, focusing on the social and scientific discovery of environmental contaminants and responses by science, government, and social movements. The authors examine the “toxic trespass” of chemicals that violate our bodies and environment without permission, drawing on the case study of per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) as contaminants of growing public, regulatory, and scientific concern. The problem of toxic trespass highlights disputes between laypeople, professionals, and governments in addressing the contested and uneven health consequences of environmental exposures. The chapter discusses how environmental health campaigns typically involve local communities discovering a toxic threat and then galvanizing regulatory action. The research argues that local communities have a right to know the findings of academic research and stresses the importance of making those results accessible to communities.

in Toxic truths
Barbara L. Allen

In the environmental justice arena, citizen science encompasses a broad array of practices, from local residents asking the questions driving scientific inquiry to participating in data collection. This chapter argues that collecting data should not be the end of the participatory process as data does not speak for, or represent, communities without a further step: collaborative analysis. Analyzing data with communities satisfies several objectives, as demonstrated in a case study of two industrial towns in France. First, residents are empowered as collaborators in making meaning from abstract numbers. Grounding statistics in local experience deeply contextualizes the data, making it both socially robust and empirically stronger. Second, through inclusive analysis, residents who may have been unable to adequately conceptualize their experience such that it could be understood by policymakers have a venue to collectively render their lived knowledge intelligible. Finally, the linking of quantitative to qualitative data can increase the relevance and effectiveness of a study to both residents and local medical professionals. In this case, citizens gained confident ownership of the science they helped create and could speak authoritatively about it. This led to local residents and elected officials more assertively using the health study to influence better environmental outcomes.

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
Lessons learned from community-driven participatory research and the “people’s professor”
Sarah Rhodes, KD Brown, Larry Cooper, Naeema Muhammad, and Devon Hall

The global epicenter of industrial hog production is in North Carolina (NC), USA. There, approximately 9 million hogs are raised for meat production in over 2,000 industrial hog operations (IHO) across the state. This area is also situated within the Black Belt, a geopolitical region marred by over 400 years of slavery and ongoing government-sanctioned violence. This chapter elevates the triumphs and lessons gained from actors heavily involved in both the continuing legal action against the hog industry and the NC government, as well as the community-driven participatory research (CDPR) that exposed their underlying environmental injustice and racism. This chapter first explores the history, impact, and political influence of the hog industry. Then, we summarize and celebrate the influential CDPR studies conducted by Professor Steve Wing in collaboration with community-based organizations such as the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH) and the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN). Next, we present lessons learned from these CDPR studies for those from all backgrounds working in partnership to envision and build a future where environmental justice is actualized. Finally, this chapter honors Professor Wing as the “people’s professor,” urging academics to consult his work as a guide for transforming their own research practice.

in Toxic truths