Meet our chemicals: ubiquitous presence, selective views

Nona Schulte-Römer (Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH – UFZ)
Stefan Böschen (RWTH Aachen University)
Encounters between people, things and environments
Faraday Lecture Theatre (Faraday Complex)
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Since industrialization, artificially produced chemicals have become an inextricable part of our society - whether we are aware of it or not. They help and harm us, they make life easier for some and more difficult for others. This panel will explore issues of chemicals design, use and regulation.

Long abstract:

This panel explores what it means to live with chemicals in the 21st century. Residues of quite different chemicals (e.g. plastics, pesticides, inflammables) can be found everywhere on our planet. The chemical industry designs and produces increasing amounts of ever new substances, which enter unpredictable global material flows and end up in places very far away from where they originated. Therefore, in industrialised countries, institutions like European Chemicals Agency (EU; legislation REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), Environmental Protection Agency (USA; legislation TSCA: Toxic Substances Control Act), labour standards and product certificates are established for chemical policy. At the same time, chemicals regulation and capacities to manage chemicals differ considerably across the globe. Moreover, new scientific evidence continuously reminds us of how little we know about the millions of chemical substances and traces in our environment, their accumulation, degradation and interactions, and their potentially harmful effects on ecosystems and humans. We invite papers that allow us to 'meet' the difficult questions of how chemicals are interwoven in the social. Chemicals are ubiquitous, but nevertheless often invisible. How are chemicals used and perceived in everyday practices? How do chemicals become subject to regulation? In which areas (e.g. bio-economy) are alternatives or 'benign' chemicals put into practice? How to decipher the complex landscape of chemicals in their environments? How can science and technology studies help to analyse the tension between the ubiquity of chemicals and their selective presence in political arenas, laboratories or in everyday practices?