Fellows in the News

Lauren Richter has published an article in Social Studies of Science, "Non-stick science: Sixty years of research and (in)action on fluorinated compounds" about how the risks of PFASs have been both structurally hidden and unexamined by existing regulatory and industry practice.

Abstract

Understandings of environmental governance both assume and challenge the relationship between expert knowledge and corresponding action. We explore this interplay by examining the context of knowledge production pertaining to a contested class of chemicals. Per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) are widely used industrial compounds containing chemical chains of carbon and fluorine that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. Although industry and regulatory scientists have studied the exposure and toxicity concerns of these compounds for decades, and several contaminated communities have documented health concerns as a result of their high levels of exposure, PFAS use remains ubiquitous in a large range of consumer and industrial products. Despite this significant history of industry knowledge production documenting exposure and toxicity concerns, the regulatory approach to PFASs has been limited. This is largely due to a regulatory framework that privileges industry incentives for rapid market entry and trade secret protection over substantive public health protection, creating areas of unseen science, research that is conducted but never shared outside of institutional boundaries. In particular, the risks of PFASs have been both structurally hidden and unexamined by existing regulatory and industry practice. This reveals the uneven pathways that construct issues of social and scientific concern.

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