Accepted Paper:

Remediating contamination, mediating community: insights on the matter of toxicity in Southern Ontario  


Jessica Broe-Vayda (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores environmental contamination and remediation in Hamilton, Ontario. It considers how human/non-human lives are defined in scholarly literature, and argues that these differences affect residents’ capacity to mobilize notions of community to expedite the remediation process.

Paper long abstract:

The highest concentration of metal-producing industry in Canada is located on the south shore of the Hamilton Harbour. In the 1980s, evidence emerged linking this industrial production to extensive environmental contamination. The Harbour's sediment is highly contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls (Poulton 1987). After decades of delay, construction crews just started work on a remediation project designed to contain the contamination. This paper considers the history of Hamilton Harbour's remediation, focusing on what it means to live and labour in Hamilton amid an ongoing ecological disaster. I explore the material and social relations that emerge from within contaminated spaces and make environmental remediation possible. More specifically, this paper examines the epistemological grounds for a local 'community' that is mediated by experiences with toxic contamination. This paper contributes to anthropological scholarship in two ways. First, it offers an alternative definition of ecological 'disaster'. Toxic contamination continues to accumulate in Hamilton; it is an ongoing condition of everyday life rather than the result of a momentary crisis. Second, it interrogates how local understandings of contamination are formed in relation to specific forms of scientific knowledge production. There is considerable evidence documenting the spread of these contaminants throughout local waterways and in non-human lifeforms, but to date, there have been no studies documenting contaminant loads within human residents. This paper concludes by discussing the implications of this scientific 'blindspot' on local residents' (embodied) experiences with contamination as well as their ability to seek redress from those responsible for the disaster.

Panel LL-AS05
Poison, movements and communities