Industrial Chemists as Environmental Decision Makers: The Case of ChlorineEPA Grant Number: U915934
Title: Industrial Chemists as Environmental Decision Makers: The Case of Chlorine
Investigators: Howard, Jeffrey L.
Institution: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2004
Project Amount: $101,900
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2001) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice , Fellowship - Environmental
Technological change has important political implications. A technology embodies the values and the economic and political objectives and perspectives of the institutions that develop it; and the decision to develop, deploy, or retain one technology rather than another can affect power relations throughout society. In this sense, technologies serve as de facto forms of legislation, the individuals within the economic institutions that introduce and propel those technologies serving as de facto legislators. In the environmental arena, key "lawmakers" include not just Congressional representatives, but the shareholders, executives, and employees of private companies and trade groups—individuals who steer research, development, production, and application of technologies such as cars and chemicals. The objective of this research project is to examine industrial chemists as environmental "lawmakers" by developing a case study on their conceptions of the role of chlorine in the chemical economy and political economy.
Chlorinated organic compounds, which include 11,000 industrial chemicals (used in or as pesticides, solvents, plastics, and chemical intermediates) as well as thousands of chemical byproducts, are at the center of a vigorous, ongoing debate. The frequency with which organochlorines have emerged as environmentally harmful has prompted some scientists, activists, and public health experts to propose that major industrial uses of chlorine be phased out. The U.S. chemical industry has vigorously resisted these developments. However, industry officials reportedly believe a chlorine phaseout could be accomplished within 30 years, and it has been suggested that, even in the absence of direct federal regulatory pressure for a phaseout, the industry's research and development programs might now be steering away from chlorine. There are numerous gaps in this debate, some of the most important of which concern the thinking of industrial chemists and the activities of industrial research and development organizations. Relevant questions that have not been adequately explored in the scholarly or popular literature include:
1. How do industrial chemists conceptualize the technical and political dimensions of these issues?
2. Are these chemists systematically pursuing the development of alternatives to the use of chlorine?
3. If so, what regulatory, political, and economic pressures are propelling this shift?