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Dangerous Trade

Dangerous Trade: Histories of Industrial Hazard across a Globalizing World

Christopher Sellers
Joseph Melling
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 218
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  • Book Info
    Dangerous Trade
    Book Description:

    From anthrax to asbestos to pesticides, industrial toxins and pollutants have troubled the world for the past century and longer. Environmental hazards from industry remain one of the world's foremost killers.Dangerous Tradeestablishes historical groundwork for a better understanding of how and why these hazards continue to threaten our shrinking world.

    In this timely collection, an international group of scholars casts a rigorous eye towards efforts to combat these ailments.Dangerous Tradecontains a wide range of case studies that illuminate transnational movements of risk-from the colonial plantations of Indonesia to compensation laws in late 19th century Britain, and from the occupational medicine clinics of 1960s New York City to the burning of electronic waste in early twenty-first century Uruguay.

    The essays inDangerous Tradeprovide an unprecedented broad perspective of the dangers stirred up by industrial activity across the globe, as well as the voices rasied to remedy them.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0470-1
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Environmental Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction. From Dangerous Trades to Trade in Dangers: Toward an Industrial Hazard History of the Present
    (pp. 1-14)
    Christopher Sellers and Joseph Melling

    At the beginning of the twenty-first century, industrial diseases elicit only mild curiosity among most readers in affluent corners of the world. They seem part of a vanishing past, slipping out of modern memory, long since vanquished by previous battles against antiquated processes and brutal working conditions. This impression is misleading at best and, by the light of this book, utterly mistaken. Depending on where you stand at present, industrial dangers can be at once new or old, mostly occupational or mostly environmental, unknown or widely recognized, unregulated or tightly controlled—and all the while, on a global scale, ever...


    • Creating Industrial Hazards in the Developing World

      • 1 Rubber Plantation Workers, Work Hazards, and Health in Colonial Malaya, 1900–1940
        (pp. 17-32)
        Amarjit Kaur

        By the early twentieth century, Britain had created an externally oriented colonial economy in Malaya (the Malay Peninsula and Singapore before 1948) based on rubber and tin. Rubber cultivation centred on the plantation mode of production, incorporated new agricultural techniques and scientific methods, and exemplified capitalist ecological interventions in agriculture. For the most part, companies with European management ran the plantations, where work was extremely labour-intensive. Labourers were imported from South India and settled on large interior estates, where they formed isolated migrant communities. The environmental and health consequences of this new mode of agricultural production were far-reaching and primarily...

      • 2 Work, Home, and Natural Environments: Health and Safety in the Mexican Oil Industry, 1900–1938
        (pp. 33-45)
        Myrna Santiago

        José G. Ramírez had worked for the East Coast Oil Company since adolescence. Between 1908 and 1916, he worked twelve-hour shifts For the next seven years, he also worked Sundays. By 1927 Ramírez had suffered serious illness and two major accidents. in 1924 he nearly lost one eye, stabbed by splinters at a construction site. the next year a pipeline crushed his right foot. in 1923 and 1926 he caught malaria and missed work for weeks. The company lowered his salary once, and when he objected to a reduction in 1927, east Coast Oil fired him—after nineteen years of...

    • Knowing and Controlling in the Developed world

      • 3 Global Markets and Local Conflicts in Mercury Mining: Industrial Restructuring and Workplace Hazards at the Almaden Mines in the Early Twentieth Century
        (pp. 47-59)
        Alfredo Menéndez-Navarro

        In 2005, as a means of protecting European citizens and their environment from mercury’s highly toxic compounds, the European Commission adopted a “Mercury Strategy” calling for a reduction in mercury emissions and for measures to cut its use.¹ The new policy seriously affected the Almaden mercury mines, bringing to a close a Spanish state-owned venture that had been the world’s largest mercury producer and exporter for 450 years, supplying one-third of the world’s mined mercury.² Almaden had played an extraordinarily important role in the overall Spanish economy since the mid-sixteenth century, when amalgamation became the most widely used metallurgical technique...

      • 4 Trade, Spores, and the Culture of Disease: Attempts to Regulate Anthrax in Britain and Its International Trade, 1875–1930
        (pp. 60-72)
        Tim Carter and Joseph Melling

        Among the dangerous trades that have injured and killed workers since the early days of industrialisation, the processing of animal parts such as wool and the manufacture of woollen products would appear to have presented few dangers. Nevertheless, this essay examines a peculiar hazard faced by British laborers engaged in wool textile work during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These laborers were identified as the first casualties of anthrax as an industrial disease in the united Kingdom during the late Victorian era. We consider the responses of successive British governments and the contribution of key activists, most noticeably...

      • 5 Rayon, Carbon Disulfide, and the Emergence of the Multinational Corporation in Occupational Disease
        (pp. 73-84)
        Paul D. Blanc

        The history of “artificial silk,” a man-made textile we know today as rayon, is tightly interwoven with the story of a single and singularly toxic synthetic chemical, carbon disulfide (CS₂). Between 1910 and 1930, the artificial silk industry grew exponentially to assume a major economic presence in the United Kingdom and worldwide. From the very start, it was dominated by a few large multinational firms. as these became even more interconnected, the key chemical-intensive viscose manufacturing processes they shared meant that the CS₂ hazards experienced by one factory site were present at all others. Yet despite widespread use of CS₂...


    • New Transfers of Production

      • 6 Shipping the “Next Prize”: The Trade in Liquefied Natural Gas from Nigeria to Mexico
        (pp. 87-98)
        Anna Zalik

        Since 2004 a range of North American community and environmental organizations have successfully opposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure on the East and West coasts. From California and British Columbia to Rhode Island, Baja California, and the Canadian Atlantic, these popular movements center attention on the hazards of LNG.¹ In California not a single proposed LNG terminal has proceeded, in sites as diverse as the northern college town of Arcata and the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach. In early 2010 groups in Oregon and Washington State announced their victory against the proposed Bradwood LNG project when the project’s financial...

      • 7 New Hazards and Old Disease: Lead Contamination and the Uruguayan Battery Industry
        (pp. 99-111)
        Daniel E. Renfrew

        A versatile heavy metal, lead has been mined and used by humans for over six thousand years, and its toxic effects were identified in writing almost twenty-five hundred years ago.¹ Though one of the world’s oldest known occupational and environmental diseases, lead poisoning remained a mostly silent epidemic in Uruguay until 2001, when a neighbors group responded to the realization that perhaps hundreds of children of Montevideo’s La Teja working-class neighborhood had been poisoned. The group crystallized into the nation’s largest-ever environmental movement, the Live without lead Commission (Comisión Vivir sin Plomo, CVSP), sounding the alarm of lead poisoning through...

    • New Knowledge and Coalitions

      • 8 Objective Collectives? Transnationalism and “Invisible Colleges” in Occupational and Environmental Health from Collis to Selikoff
        (pp. 113-125)
        Joseph Melling and Christopher Sellers

        In 1978 the New York Academy of Sciences listened to one of its distinguished members, Irving Selikoff, explain how he and his peers had recently achieved a deeper understanding of diseases caused by asbestos. New scientific research into this toxic mineral and its health hazards had yielded advances that were, in Selikoff’s view, the fruits of collective rather than individual genius. The formation of an “invisible college” of experts had enabled hundreds of scientists to communicate, integrate, and disseminate key information, establishing the study of asbestos as an “active special area in science.”¹ Those productive personal interchanges, outside the walls...

      • 9 Bread and Poison: Stories of Labor Environmentalism in Italy, 1968–1998
        (pp. 126-139)
        Stefania Barca

        This chapter tells the story of the encounter between a generation of Italian experts in industrial hygiene (physicians and sociologists) and factory workers, and how that encounter translated into new forms of knowledge and political action. The chapter aims to highlight the material relations existing between occupational, environmental, and public health as they were experienced by subaltern social groups, who knew industrial hazards through their bodies and through the environments where they worked and lived. This material reality—the organic relationship between humans and nature through work—has been politically obscured by dominant social forces and by the divide between...

      • 10 A New Environmental Turn? How the Environment Came to the Rescue of Occupational Health: Asbestos in France, 1970–1995
        (pp. 140-152)
        Emmanuel Henry

        Many contributors toDangerous Tradenote the peculiar relationship between industrial hazards and environmental consciousness. Sellers argues that the “environmental turn” of the mid-twentieth century was precipitated by occupational health problems that brought to the fore a number of issues in environmental health.¹ Castleman and Tweedale discuss problems facing asbestos workers who struggle against barriers to compensation justice.

        Asbestos became the most lethal occupational carcinogen used in France by the late twentieth century, killing approximately three thousand people every year, most of them employed in diverse trades (insulation, shipyards, and asbestos factories) and on construction sites utilizing asbestos-cement. The hazards...

    • New arenas of Contest

      • 11 A Tale of Two Lawsuits: Making Policy-Relevant Environmental Health Knowledge in Italian and U.S. Chemical Regions
        (pp. 154-167)
        Barbara L. Allen

        Contributions to this volume frequently note the impact of popular movements on the transformation of environmental health politics during the later twentieth century and the early years of this one. Activist groups have brought pressure to bear on governments to take seriously citizens’ complaints about industrial and social hazards. The origins of such disquiet can often be traced to the failure of the powerful and commercial or professional experts to provide effective answers to questions about hazards presented by industrial facilities. For those residing near chemical plants, an important question has been the long-term health effects of exposure to low...

      • 12 Pesticide Regulation, Citizen Action, and Toxic Trade: The Role of the Nation-State in the Transnational History of DBCP
        (pp. 168-180)
        Susanna Rankin Bohme

        In 1977, the pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) came under public scrutiny in the United States as production workers linked their high rates of sterility to exposure to the toxic chemical. Over the following years, DBCP use in the united states was increasingly restricted and ended altogether in 1985.¹ in Central America, in contrast, transnational fruit grower Dole² continued to use the chemical in the absence of even the most basic safety measures.³

        This scenario evokes the image of globalization as a “race to the bottom,” in which hyper-mobile transnational corporations sell, use, or produce dangerous goods in the least regulated markets,...

      • 13 Turning the Tide: The Struggle for Compensation for Asbestos-Related Diseases and the Banning of Asbestos
        (pp. 181-194)
        Barry Castleman and Geoffrey Tweedale

        Asbestos—a mineral once used for fireproofing and insulation, and still used in some parts of the world for building products—can cause potentially fatal diseases: asbestosis (lung scarring), asbestos-related lung cancer, and mesothelioma (a virulent malignancy of the lining of the lung or gut). By the 1960s, substantial numbers of workers in asbestos factories were suffering from these asbestos-related diseases (ARDS); so, too, were people who worked outside the asbestos industry (see the essay in this volume by melling and sellers). this did not prevent the growth of world production of asbestos from 3.5 million tonnes to 4.7 million...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-206)
    Joseph Melling, Christopher Sellers and Barry Castleman

    Contributors to this collection share a common aim. We seek to puncture the complacency that prevails in much of the world today concerning industrial dangers. Those of us living in affluent, developed nations find it only too easy to congratulate ourselves on the accomplishments of the past century in both occupational and environmental health. Even more commonly, citizens in wealthier societies take these historic achievements entirely for granted. Such complacency is misplaced. To paraphrase the novelist William Faulkner, many of history’s worst hazards are not dead; they are not even past. Impressive as many of our protective schemes have become,...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 207-210)
  10. Index
    (pp. 211-218)