This talk examines the capacity of chemical manufacturers to influence the scope of U.S. regulatory decision-making through mobilizing the scientific field surrounding PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Drawing on participant observation at two offices within Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in-depth interviews, and analyses of industry documents, I will share a portion of my research investigating industry efforts to dominate scientific knowledge production both within and outside the U.S. EPA. Through the multi-decade case of contested PFAS scientific knowledge production, I take a sociological fields approach to analyze contested scientific claims pertaining to the risks and environmental behavior of PFAS. Specifically, I identify how the broader scientific field pertaining to PFAS from 1960-2020 has been shaped through strategic science production, enabling industry and state actors to curate what is known and unknown about an “emerging” class of contaminants.
About the Speaker
Lauren Richter is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She studies social inequality, health, and the environment. She uses qualitative interviews, ethnography, and archival approaches to broadly examine responses to adverse environmental health impacts. She focuses on U.S. regulatory frameworks and scientific knowledge/ignorance production to understand how inequality shapes pollution exposure and recourse. Richter has published in Environmental Sociology, Environmental Health, Environmental Science & Technology, Social Studies of Science, Organization & Environment, the American Journal of Public Health, and the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.