University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, December 5th 2014
Speaker: Arthur Daemmrich, University of Kansas, School of Medicine, History and Philosophy of Medicine
Subject: Vulnerable Subjects, Vulnerable Knowledge: Children's Chemical Testing Programs in the United States and European Union
Refreshments served in Room 216 Physics at 3:15 p.m.

Methods for identifying health risks in children – and the very characterization of children as a vulnerable population – have undergone significant transformations in recent decades. Attention to the risks posed by industrial chemicals has expanded from waste streams to commercial products, and from surveying the environment for known toxins to mapping the ‘body burdens’ of hundreds of synthetic substances – especially potentially endocrine disrupting chemicals – found in humans. This talk presents findings from a historical and sociological research project concerning long-term testing programs in the United States and Europe. In both settings, children came to be understood as vulnerable to synthetic compounds found in breast milk or absorbed through exposure to cleaning compounds and plastic toys. Test methods, especially plans to recruit minority participants through financial incentives, proved more controversial in the United States than in the European Union. At the same time, EU member states carried out competing studies and regulators found it impossible to integrate test results. Furthermore, issues of cooperation among otherwise competing firms and between the industry and government regulators plagued efforts in the United States, while the complexity of fitting children’s testing into a major new regulatory framework for chemicals slowed testing in Europe. The talk presents an analysis of testing programs and offers historical and comparative insight on initiatives intended to generate new regulatory knowledge that is disruptive to existing governance systems and the social roles occupied by physicians, industry, government regulators, and health-oriented NGOs.

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