Meet our chemicals: ubiquitous presence, selective views
Location Faraday Lecture Theatre (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Nona Schulte-Römer (Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH – UFZ) email
  • Stefan Böschen (RWTH Aachen University) email

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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?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Sustainable chemistry: concept, actors and activities

Authors: Nona Schulte-Römer (Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH – UFZ) email
Max Söding (Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research GmbH – UFZ) email
Vera Hickethier (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research GmbH - UFZ) email
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Short abstract

The idea of 'Sustainable Chemistry' is not new, but has recently received new momentum. In May 2017, the German Environment Ministry and the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) launched the ISC3 - International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre to help 'shape transformation.' But how?

Long abstract

Sustainable Chemistry is a broad concept that draws on and contributes to an even wider agenda of sustainable development. It depends on scientific research, but also goes far beyond science. The American Chemical Society (ACS) links it to Green Chemistry and describes it as a 'different way of thinking about how chemistry and chemical engineering can be done.' Most importantly, however, it is an emerging concept that frames an ongoing transformation process that affects society as a whole on a global scale.

This paper explores the concept of Sustainable Chemistry in the context of existing regulatory frameworks and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Based on a document analysis, it outlines how different actors (political organisations, industry, NGOs, etc.) frame the transformation towards Sustainable Chemistry, and which actors or aspects are missing from the debate.

Use and representation of substances. Experimentation in natural science lessons

Author: Anna Dorn (University of Mainz) email
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Short abstract

In natural science lessons substances are omnipresent. Chemicals and everyday substances take part in 'experiments'. My paper explores two ways of representation: firstly, in form of practical experimentation and secondly in form of the chemical notation on the blackboard.

Long abstract

Chemical substances are ubiquitous in natural science lessons and entwined in laboratory practice. So far the use of substances has not been examined in detail. Therefore, the aim of my paper is to discuss, how the use of substances can theoretically and empirically concep-tualised using natural science lessons as an empirical case.

My paper explores the following two aspects in more detail: the ontological one in the context of school experimentation, the formal one by the writing on the blackboard using chemical symbols. The direct manipulation of the chemicals must be learned and a sense for their ap-propriate handling must be developed. Chemicals become relevant through their sensual perception and can communicate information through chemical reactions, for example a change in colour or smell. Based on this chemicals become also relevant in their sensual perception. Hence, substances can be used through their representations. Secondly, chemi-cal reactions produce visual indicators which have to be observed, articulated and re-presented in 'chemical writing'. I am going to explore how students are trained to transform the bodily perceived reactions of substances into characters i.e., the chemical equation.

The participation of students in the practical management and manipulation of (dangerous) chemicals, their semiotic representation and their discursive embedment produce knowledge through the material entanglement. The presented empirical data derive from participant ob-servations of school lessons and guided experimentations in a university student lab.

Chemicals in daily life - an emerging concern ignored in Portugal?

Author: Susana Fonseca (University of Lisbon) email
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Short abstract

There have been regular alerts on the risks that different chemical substances may pose for human health, particularly for vulnerable groups. Here we aim at presenting the results of a study being conducted with pregnant women in Portugal, regarding their perceptions and practices on this matter.

Long abstract

In the last decades, there have been regular alerts on the risks that different chemical substances found in day-to-day life pose for human health, particularly for vulnerable groups - children and women in childbearing age. In response to this, some professional institutions representing health practitioners (doctors and nurses) have published guidelines on how to advise families (particularly pregnant women) about the potential risks for babies and children's health resulting from the cocktail of chemical substances that our bodies carry and get in contact with every day.

In Portugal, mothers and future mothers seem to trust health professional's advice throughout their pregnancy and after birth, more than any other source of information. In this context, it is highly relevant to explore how chemicals in daily life are addressed by health professionals during pregnancy and early childhood and how do future mothers deal with potential doubts and lack of information on the subject.

This communication will present the results of a study that involves in depth interviews (26) with pregnant women with different motherhood experiences and social backgrounds.

The preliminary results point to a lack of awareness on the subject, not only by mothers, but also by health professionals who rarely address such a theme with their patients. Therefore, it is our objective to problematize and discuss the apparent paradox of the emergence of chemicals in daily life as a health concern at the international level, but that seems to be escaping the attention of health professionals and future mothers in Portugal.

Making chemical infrastructures (in)visible: environmental imaginaries and the environmental sciences of antimicrobial resistance

Authors: Richard Helliwell (University of Nottingham) email
Sujatha Raman (University of Nottingham) email
Carol Morris (University of Nottingham) email
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Short abstract

We explore the environmental imaginaries shaping the practices and places through which the field of environmental AMR attempts to make visible antimicrobial pollutants, resistant bacteria and genes.

Long abstract

Deployed in the face of microbial threats to human and animal life, antibiotic, antifungal, anti-parasitic, anti-virals and other antimicrobial agents pose distinctive challenges for STS analysis of 'chemical infrastructures' (Murphy, 2013).

Positioned as representing hope that human life can flourish in the face of pathogenic life, paradoxically the use of antimicrobials has also come to represent a threat to their future efficacy. Once susceptible microbes have become resilient to the toxic effects of antimicrobials and are becoming significant problems in human health care settings, with increasing human mortality and morbidity resulting from resistant microbial infections.

However, AMR is not only centred on its impacts on diseased bodies, but also includes the environment. The environmental sciences of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) engages with a number of questions regarding antimicrobial agents within environmental systems, their impacts on microbial communities and their implications for human health outcomes arising from AMR. However, in investigating these questions, the field enacts culturally specific forms of imagining the environment which shape the practices and places through which antimicrobials, resistant microbes and genes are made visible, while effacing others.

This paper investigates what environmental imaginaries are evident in environmental AMR research, and how they are shaping the practices and places through which environmental sciences attempt to make visible antimicrobial pollutants, resistant bacteria and genes.

In doing so we draw attention to the tensions between an imagined, flattened and global environment, and the environment as encountered through scientific practices, which reveals the uneven spatial and temporal distributions of chemical infrastructures.

Interdisciplinary study of the management at the source of pharmaceutical residues in the hospital: a chemical and a sociological analysis

Authors: Geoffrey Carrere (University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès) email
Julia Barrault (Université de Bordeaux) email
Vincent Dufour (University of Bordeaux) email
Helene Budzinski (Université de Bordeaux) email
Denis Salles (IRSTEA) email
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Short abstract

This presentation analyzes, through a chemical and a sociological analysis, the chemical fingerprint of the hospital, the disposition and the social pressures on the greening process of the medical practices faced the environmental issue of the pharmaceutical residues in the hospital of Bordeaux.

Long abstract

The aquatic environment contamination by pharmaceutical residues appears as a new emergent pollutant which interrogates the very heart of the medical practices.

Realized in the RESEAU/REGARD research programs led by IRSTEA of Bordeaux, UMR-EPOC and R&D center of SUEZ, this communication proposes an interdisciplinary analysis of the Bordeaux University Teaching Hospital through a chemical and a sociological analysis.

Based on 42 semi-directive interviews, the sociological analysis will show that the awareness of the contamination of aquatic environment by medications is unsymmetrically spread between the hospital actors. We will explain this asymmetry through several factors: the sanitary social pressures, the occupational health risk induces by the use of cancer drugs, and the development of ambulatory care.

The chemical analyses were performed for 8 different hospital wastewater canalizations, such as those related to pediatric or administration departments. A wide list of 69 pharmaceuticals, including anti-inflammatories, analgesics, antibiotics and cancer drugs was targeted. Some quite typical fingerprints have been evidenced in relation with specific therapeutic activities. Nevertheless globally speaking, paracetamol (analgesic) was found at the highest concentration (µg-mg.L-1) due to its high consumption at the hospital (1.5 ton per year). Cyclophosphamide (cancer drug) was found at low concentration (ng.L-1) but nevertheless was enhanced as compound of concern due to its high cytotoxicity.

Finally, we will present some tools (ex. video scribing) used to initiate a discussion with the hospital actors.

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Plastic matters: the material politics of microplastics at the Environment Agency Austria

Author: Artemis Papadaki-Anastasopoulou (University of Vienna) email
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Short abstract

The presentation explores the material politics of microplastics; how they become a matter of concern in the Environment Agency Austria and how classification practices matter. By attending to the procedural materialities of plastics it unfolds the entanglements of plastics, humans and environments.

Long abstract

Microplastics are small plastic particles found in oceans, lakes, rivers, soil or air. They are an emerging environmental issue due to the uncertain risks they may pose to humans and wildlife. Plastics have a unique materiality which has been described as a process rather than fixed or stable. Their materiality is enacted and realised in divergent environments.

In the past years there have been discussions on how to regulate plastics on a European Level. In 2016 the Interest Group Plastics was founded as part of the European Network of the Environmental Protection Agencies. The Environment Agency Austria (EAA) is an active actor in the Interest Group with leading projects on microplastics in the environment. On the one hand, their laboratories seek to monitor microplastics and explore their impact and risk, with efforts to classify microplastics becoming key in understanding the phenomenon. On the other hand, the EAA is engaged in developing strategies for policy-makers and industrial stakeholders. In other words, they work at the intersections of laboratory science, policy and industry.

Exploring how the materiality of microplastics is realised in the EAA and how microplastics become a matter of concern is the focus of this presentation. By conducting interviews with the actors of the EAA this study is exploring the 'material politics' of microplastics. The aim is to make a contribution to STS studies on plastics and to explore deeper the material entanglements of plastics, humans and environments in contemporary societies.

Epistemic regimes: the case of regulating chemicals in the European Union

Author: Stefan Böschen (RWTH Aachen University) email
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Short abstract

The paper is investigating into the changes of the regulation of chemicals in the European Union under REACH. This legislation forms the basis of e new epistemic experimentalism within regulation affecting the coordination of different views on chemicals.

Long abstract

The regulation of chemicals is a case in point to observe the shift in regulatory strategies from a knowledge-based towards a non-knowledge oriented approach of regulation. This was done in 2006 to establish a regulation realizing the precautionary principle. Aligning with this regulation a complex procedure to govern knowledge was established. In the new regulation the relevant knowledge has now to be reported by the industry and the new formed ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) has to control and to decide about the applications. As this process is quite complex, it was decided as early as REACH was introduced to have a review process after ten years. In the meantime, this review process with regard to this procedure, its strengths and weaknesses, was set up.

This is a quite appropriate point in time for analysing the processes of reorganizing the field of constructing authoritative knowledge while the demands were increased and as the same time the ways of constructing authoritative knowledge were put into a new division of labour. The bunch of processes aligning this shift I would like to call the emergence of an epistemic regime. With Foucault, epistemic regimes can be seen as set of practices, rules and regulations which not only regulates conflicts about epistemic quality and the acknowledgement of epistemic authority but also forms the preconditions for regulation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.