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Exposed Science

Exposed Science: Genes, the Environment, and the Politics of Population Health

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
  • Book Info
    Exposed Science
    Book Description:

    We rely on environmental health scientists to document the presence of chemicals where we live, work, and play and to provide an empirical basis for public policy. In the last decades of the 20th century, environmental health scientists began to shift their focus deep within the human body, and to the molecular level, in order to investigate gene-environment interactions. InExposed Science, Sara Shostak analyzes the rise of gene-environment interaction in the environmental health sciences and examines its consequences for how we understand and seek to protect population health. Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic observation, Shostak demonstrates that what we know - and what we don't know - about the vulnerabilities of our bodies to environmental hazards is profoundly shaped by environmental health scientists' efforts to address the structural vulnerabilities of their field. She then takes up the political effects of this research, both from the perspective of those who seek to establish genomic technologies as a new basis for environmental regulation, and from the perspective of environmental justice activists, who are concerned that that their efforts to redress the social, political, and economical inequalities that put people at risk of environmental exposure will be undermined by molecular explanations of environmental health and illness.Exposed Sciencethus offers critically important new ways of understanding and engaging with the emergence of gene-environment interaction as a focal concern of environmental health science, policy-making, and activism.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95524-0
    Subjects: Public Health, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the spring of 2000, a two-year-old girl named Sunday Abek was treated at a New Hampshire hospital emergency room for a low-grade fever and vomiting. Because her throat culture was positive for strep, the doctors sent her home with a prescription for an antibiotic. Her condition worsened, and three weeks later Sunday was admitted to the hospital, where she fell into a coma. Two days later, she died. The cause of her death was lead poisoning.

    Originally from Sudan, Sunday’s family had recently moved to the United States from an Egyptian refugee camp, where she had lived for most...

  5. ONE “Toxicology Is a Political Science”
    (pp. 23-47)

    In September 2007, an array of prominent environmental health scientists and activists was called to testify before Congress. Seated before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House of Representative’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform were Samuel Wilson, then acting Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), George Lucier, former Director of the National Toxicology Program (NTP), Lynn Goldman, a professor of environmental health science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Peggy Shepard, the Executive Director of the EJ group West Harlem Environmental Action (WEACT), and Stefani Hines, a member of the National Advisory...

  6. TWO The Consensus Critique
    (pp. 48-70)

    Under what circumstances would environmental health scientists see molecular genetic approaches to understanding human health and illness as anopportunity,rather than a threat to the jurisdiction and standing of their field? As one environmental health scientist put it, genetic research—especially as it was being “oversold” as the key to unlocking the mysteries ofallhuman health and illness—appeared to many “as much as a barrier as a way to take action” (Interview S50). Following the publication of the first map of the human genome and the revelation that it contains many fewer genes than initially expected, environmental...

  7. THREE Susceptible Bodies
    (pp. 71-100)

    In the late twentieth century, the idea that all human disease is a genetic phenomenon became embedded in the practices and policies of bio-medicine, popular understanding of bodies, and beliefs about health and illness. The rising power of genetic explanations, fueled by increasing investments in genetic research, was perceived by many environmental health scientists as a significant challenge to their field, especially given its jurisdictional focus on the role of the environment in shaping human health and illness. As described in Chapter 1, many environmental health scientists expressed concern that new, molecular approaches to studying and understanding human health and...

  8. FOUR “Opening the Black Box of the Human Body”
    (pp. 101-135)

    The movement of knowledge production from cities, fields, and factories to the laboratory is a defining characteristic of the contemporary environmental health sciences.² Establishing the laboratory—rather than the actual locations where people live, work, and play—as a site of knowledge production about the relationships among bodies, the environment, and human health and illness poses enormous practical challenges. Specifically, it has required that scientists identify credible ways of representing the environment and modeling its effects on human bodies inside the space of the laboratory. Contemporary toxicologists meet such challenges primarily by measuring the effects of specific chemicals inside the...

  9. FIVE Making a Molecular Regulatory Science
    (pp. 136-168)

    The possibility that genomic data could improve environmental risk assessment and regulation constitutes a central rationale for environmental health scientists’ research on gene-environment interaction. However, as we have seen, the formal policies, practices, and organization of the regulatory agencies shape whether and how molecular measurements enter into environmental risk assessment and regulation. At the time that Midway Village residents announced that chromosomal aberrations had been found in their blood samples, there was no place for such information in Cal/EPA’s analysis of environmental health risks at that site. Rather, environmental risk assessment and regulation relied on measures of the ambient environment...

  10. SIX The Molecular Is Political
    (pp. 169-195)

    In 2002, five mothers, on behalf of their fourteen children, brought suit against the owner of an 86-year-old apartment complex in Greenwood, Mississippi, where they lived, and National Lead Industries, Inc., one of the largest paint manufacturers in the United States. The plaintiffs in the case,Tamiko Jones, et al., v. NL Industries, et al.(Civil Action No.4:03CV229), claimed that their children had been poisoned by the lead in the paint on the walls and, as a consequence, had suffered irreversible mental damage, including loss of IQ, impaired cognitive function, and behavioral problems. The defendants argued that the children’s genetic...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 196-217)

    The jumping off place for this analysis was a puzzle: The defining mission, as well as the professional jurisdiction, of the environmental health sciences is to understand how environmental exposures affect human health. Yet, over the past thirty years, many of these scientists have shifted the focus of their research away from the external, ambient environment to look deep inside the human body, at the molecular level—a shift that has consequences not only for how scientists do their work, but also for how we, as a society, understand and seek to control the potentially harmful effects of environmental exposures....

    (pp. 218-222)

    I’ve been privileged to present my research to a wide variety of audiences over the past ten years. I’ve given talks to sociologists, environmental health scientists (at the NIEHS and elsewhere), historians of medicine, researchers who study the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetics, interdisciplinary groups focused on issues of science and justice, and population health researchers. As you would imagine, I get very different questions from these various audiences for my work, and this has been tremendously helpful to me in developing my analysis. In this afterword, I want to take up a line of inquiry that has...

  13. APPENDIX A: Data and Methods
    (pp. 223-226)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-254)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 255-258)
  16. References
    (pp. 259-286)
  17. Index
    (pp. 287-298)