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Accepted Paper:

Acid worlds: chemosocial encounters and multispecies collaborations in contexts of acid mine drainage  
Tomás J. Usón (Humboldt University of Berlin)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper conceptually explores how acid mine drainage in the Peruvian Andes, resulting from the interaction between minerals and bacteria, gives rise to novel forms of multispecies collaborations for phytoremediation, while also raising questions about environmental justice and violence.

Paper Abstract:

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is one of the leading causes of water pollution in the world. An common externality of the mining industry, AMD occurs when subterranean minerals intersect with water, oxygen, and, notably for this paper, acidophilic bacteria—named for their ability to thrive in highly acidic environments. These chemosocial interactions between minerals and microorganisms triggers the release of heavy metals into the environment, yielding severe ecosystem consequences but also fostering unexpected alliances for bioremediation.

In the Callejón de Huaylas, a region in the Peruvian Andes impacted by AMD as a direct consequence of mining industry and glacial retreat due to climate change, local organizations and researchers are exploring the potential of specific plant species to concentrate and stabilize heavy metals in water streams and soil—a process commonly known as phytoremediation. These innovative collaborations between local activists, scientists, plants, and bacteria unveil intricate multispecies entanglements that redefine the very concept of health in AMD contexts. Yet, these collaborations also prompt inquiries into environmental justice and accountability for decades of extractivist regimes and ecological degradation.

This paper seeks to conceptually explore the meaning of health when considering the complex relations among humans, bacteria, heavy metals, and plants in highly polluted environments. By introducing forms of acidophilic alliances and examining the responses they provoke in the Callejón de Huaylas, the paper reflects on how practices for evidencing and politicizing pollution, coupled with the multispecies collaborations emerging from these practices, are also deeply embedded in ongoing processes of environmental violence and territorial exploitation.

Panel P009
Ambivalent substances: chemosocialities in life-death worlds [Medical Anthropology Europe (MAE)]
  Session 1 Thursday 25 July, 2024, -