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Abstract When government actors seek to restrict the sale of hazardous substances, industry actors tend to intervene, deploying coordinated strategies aimed at delaying, preventing or weakening attempts to regulate their products. In many cases, this has involved deliberate efforts to obfuscate science, mislead the public and manipulate political actors in order to ensure desired policy outcomes. Strategies of regulatory obstructionism have resulted in the prolonged dispersal of harmful chemical substances with tangible impacts on public health. This article proposes that this behavior should be interpreted as a form of violence. Examining the regulatory histories of lead, benzene, asbestos and PCBs, the article demonstrates how regulatory obstructionism and violence have become intractable characteristics of the chemical industry. Introduction The large-scale production of industrial chemicals first began during the industrial revolution and has steadily grown and expanded throughout the 20th century. Since that time, physicians and health scientists have been playing a game of ‘catch up’, trying to understand how the widespread dispersal of many of these substances can affect human health. For some, the effects of human exposure are immediate and obvious. However for others, adverse effects are neither immediate nor visual, often emerging years or decades after initial exposure. Over the past century, these types of substances have proven to be a major challenge to human societies, posing a unique set of difficulties for authorities who are tasked with protecting the public from such threats. From leaded gasoline to asbestos, benzene and PCBs, the 20th century is riddled with histories that document the difficulties that regulatory authorities have faced when trying to control public exposure to substances that pose complex, ambiguous and accretive health risks. Much of the difficulty associated with the regulation of chemical exposure can be linked to the behavior of industry groups whose profits are tied to the continued production and sale of chemical products. When it comes to exposure hazards, there is typically a substantial delay that occurs between the discovery of the hazard and the regulation of that hazard. When science determines that a certain substance poses a threat to human health, a regulatory process unfolds in which industry actors tend to employ obstructive strategies that are intended to prevent or delay regulation from occurring. Over the past century, the chemicals industry has developed effective sets of strategies that continue to be adapted to fit new regulatory battles across different governance contexts. The success of these strategies has come with a real human cost. By prolonging the production and sale of harmful substances, industry behaviors exacerbate the damage caused by chemical exposure, increasing adverse health outcomes. Common sequelae to both acute and environmental exposure include neurobehavioral disorders, respiratory conditions, endocrine disorders, cancers and other diseases and conditions typically characterized by the slow and gradual degradation of human health. This article proposes that the use of obstructive strategies in regulatory processes can and should be interpreted as acts of violence when they lead directly to somatic harm. By situating environmental exposure and regulatory obstructionism in a framework of violence, this article seeks to contribute toward a more critical understanding of how corporate political strategy affects public health. The concept of violence is not typically deployed in literatures that examine chemical exposure. Studies in toxicology and environmental health tend to focus on the scientific dimensions of exposure, and typically avoid presenting data in ways that could be deemed too political. In the social sciences, scholars that study regulatory structures and the politics of public health will often touch on the normative dimensions of regulatory obstructionism, but rarely are industry behaviors explicitly identified as forms of violence. In the field of green criminology, violence is often identified within industry behaviors (Stretesky and Lynch, 1998; Lynch and Stretesky, 2001), but regulatory processes are neglected as locations where violence originates. Similarly, sociolegal studies that examine chemical exposure and environmental justice tend to focus on the behaviors of industry actors within the framework of established law rather than on the lawmaking processes themselves. Perhaps most closely related to the arguments laid out here is the work of Bonds (2016), who identifies structural violence within the political skullduggery of the fossil fuels industry vis-à-vis climate change. By explicitly identifying violence within chemical industry engagement strategies in regulatory processes, this article seeks to shift discussions about chemical exposure closer to their point of origin, toward the science–policy interfaces where regulatory obstructionism plays out. This article considers four case studies, examining the regulatory histories of lead, asbestos, benzene and PCBs, demonstrating how each of these cases, though different in terms of risk, have all followed similar regulatory trajectories as a result of political engagement by industry actors. Although there are many other cases where industry actions have successfully delayed or weakened government restrictions, these specific cases are selected because of their notoriety and because they represent scenarios where corporate entities have been determined to have had prior knowledge of adverse health outcomes associated with their products. In these cases, obstructive regulatory strategies were carried out despite explicit internal awareness about the negative impacts that their unregulated products would have on individual and public health. In many ways, the forms of corporate behavior that are presented in this article are similar to the behavior of the tobacco industry (Michaels, 2008; Brownell and Warner, 2009; Oreskes and Conway, 2011). However, because of a lack of issue salience and public understanding, as well as a greater scientific complexity associated with the biological mechanisms of exposure, the behaviors of the chemicals industry have not been broadly scrutinized to the same degree. By analyzing industry behavior in the longue durée, this article hopes to demonstrate how regulatory obstructionism and violence have deep structural roots and have been persistent components of the industry since the birth of industrial chemistry in the 19th century. The first section will focus on theories of violence, demonstrating why acts that prevent, delay or weaken the regulation of environmental contaminants constitute acts of violence. The next four sections examine the four substance cases, in turn, outlining the ways by which industry actors have delayed or weakened regulatory outcomes, as well as the public health costs associated with industry obstruction of regulatory processes. The final section will bring the cases together, discussing how regulatory obstructionism has become an intractable characteristic of the chemical industry. Diffused Violence By expanding on the concept of structural violence, the social sciences have broadly established the premise that not all forms of violence are immediate and visual. Galtung’s (1969) popular definition that ‘violence is present when human beings are being influenced so that their actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations’ leaves room for diverse forms of violence that may not be immediately apparent (p. 168). By interrogating chains of causality, broad definitions of violence enable scholars to deconstruct and identify roots of specific phenomena, allowing for more acute delineation between culpability among actor groups. This form of deconstruction is perhaps exemplified in Farmer-s (1996, 2006) studies of AIDS and tuberculosis in Haiti, which demonstrate how structural violence is ‘the natural expression of a political and economic order’ (Farmer 2006: 317). Slavoj Žižek’s (2008) reflections on violence make a distinction between subjective violence, performed by a clearly identifiable agent; symbolic violence, embodied in language and forms; and systemic violence, described as the invisible underlying counterpart to subjective violence. When it comes to damage caused by chemical exposure, deconstruction reveals that violence is both subjective (performed by the chemical industry) and systemic (embedded in neoliberal market practices). This is precisely what makes regulatory obstructionism somewhat unique as a form of violence. Because regulatory obstructionism has clearly identifiable authors, and a clear link between perpetrators and victims, it can be interpreted as a form of direct, subjective violence (Galtung and Höivik, 1971). However, because this violence can be traced back to roots of the chemical industry and its engagement with modern regulatory capitalism, it is clearly also structural and systemic. The violence identified in this article is perhaps most closely aligned with the concept of ‘slow violence’ as proposed by Nixon (2011), who asserts that modern conceptualizations of violence have become too focused on the immediate and the visual, with the result more damaging forms of violence often go ignored. Temporal and physical dimensions are two aspects by which traditional interpretations of violence are often identified, such that violence is easily identified when there is a short physical and temporal distance between perpetrator and victim. However, in the case of chemical exposure, there are often substantial gaps between exposure and manifestation of harm, as a result of latent and accretive physiological processes. There is a substantial physical, temporal and cognitive distance between the behavior of a lobbyist and a decades-later cancer diagnosis, even though in many cases a clear chain of causality can be established. Nixon (2011) describes slow violence as ‘a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all’ (p. 2). By prolonging the harms of chemical exposure, industry obstructionism in regulatory processes qualifies as a form of slow violence, causing attritional damage to populations who typically do not recognize that their somatic realizations have been reduced as a direct result of industry behaviors. Building off these conceptualizations, this article proposes the term ‘diffused violence’, which encompasses the unique characteristics of harm associated with the unregulated dispersal of environmental contaminants. As a result of over a century of poorly regulated industrial chemistry, nearly all living creatures are exposed to a wide range of industrial chemicals even before they are born. As the US Center for Disease Control's (CDC) National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals demonstrates, hundreds of different industrial chemicals can be measured in varying amounts within the blood, urine and tissues of most humans (CDC, 2017). While many of these substances seem to be harmless, a substantial number are consistently present in the bodies of humans and non-human animals at levels that are associated with adverse health outcomes. In this regard, the term ‘diffused violence’ takes on multiple meanings. In a spatial sense, chemical exposure and somatic harm associated with exposure is something that is diffused across the human and natural environment, such that violence is committed across entire populations and ecosystems. In a temporal sense, the violence of exposure is diffused across a lifetime, often beginning at the point at which an organism first enters into being, and continuing on even after that organism has ceased to function. In a physical sense, the term diffused violence finds additional meaning in its relationship to the processes by which many substances are dispersed in the environment. In this regard, diffusion is synonymous with the term ‘migration’, referring to the intermingling of molecules through random thermal agitation (molecular diffusion). In a more practical sense, environmental diffusion is magnified by market supply chains, which deliver chemical products to all corners of the globe. For the sake of this article, the presence of diffused violence is identified in acts of regulatory obstructionism, which aggravate the dispersal of harmful substances and the somatic damage of environmental exposure in both a spatial and temporal sense. One of the important distinctions that Galtung makes in his typology of violence is that between intended violence and unintended violence. In modern Western society, guilt is something that is more strongly connected with intention than with consequence (Galtung, 1969). This distinction represents one of the central problems that exists in chemical regulation, as culpability tends to be assigned only once a certain scientific consensus on exposure effects is reached. Because of this, the chemicals industry places an extremely high degree of importance on the regulatory process in general, and the science–policy interface in particular. In effect, the regulatory process plays a quasi-juridical role in determining not only how new scientific knowledge is applied to society but also how society weighs judgment on the behavior of firms in relation to that knowledge. In this regard, the regulatory process determines more than simple regulatory outcomes, but also how the line is drawn between what can be interpreted as intentional and unintentional. Because of this capacity for regulatory processes to influence both legal and social determinations concerning the line between accidental harm and intentional violence, they must be seen as more than mere contests over substantive policy outcomes, but also as constructive social processes by which knowledge is formed and social meaning is created. Many difficulties and frustrations in the field of public health can be tied to the fact that regulatory systems do not acknowledge that science is a social construct that is vulnerable to manipulation by interest groups. As Jasanoff (2012) notes, ‘consensus on such “facts” as the risks of formaldehyde or DDT arises not from demonstrated deaths, disability or environmental damage, but from repeated confrontations among disparate scientific observations, their interpretations by experts and stakeholders, and the ingrained moral and social commitments of decision-making institutions’ (p. 137). Because of the complexity of exposure science and the fact that it is so easily deconstructed and debated, scientific studies can be easily skewed to fit the agendas of industry actors, thus resulting in a situation whereby consensus is not established through cooperation and agreement, but rather through lengthy procedures characterized by conflict and disagreement (Harremoës et al., 2013; Markowitz and Rosner, 2013). Adversarial obstructionism has become the norm in chemical regulation, resulting in regulatory processes that are often excruciatingly slow, highly inefficient and extremely ineffective. In many cases, they comprise a strategy of delay, allowing corporations to maximize profits by bogging down regulatory progress (Michaels, 2008). Violence can be identified within acts of obstructionism when they result in the exacerbation and prolongation of adverse public health outcomes. Interpreted broadly, violence may be present whether or not actors have prior knowledge of related hazards associated with their products, so long as obstruction results in reduced somatic realizations (Galtung, 1969). However, a more narrow interpretation of violence may assert that the presence of harm alone does not necessarily indicate violence, but rather that intentionality must also be present. In the case of regulatory obstructionism, intentionality is necessarily connected with awareness, such that violence is present when industry actors intentionally deploy obstructive strategies despite institutional awareness of the harm that would be caused by regulatory inaction. When it comes to the chemical industry, awareness of harm seems to have little impact on whether or not regulatory obstructionism is deployed, though it does change the shape of engagement. The specific strategies deployed within campaigns of obstruction can be grouped into three basic categories: engagement with science, engagement in political processes and engagement with the media (Aho, 2017). These strategies have been honed and refined over the course of a century of obstructionism, as demonstrated in the remainder of this article. Today, the chemical industry’s basic strategy in the face of a regulatory threat is to fund science that challenges the existence of harm and supports predetermined regulatory outcomes. That ‘science’ is then used to manipulate political processes and assuage public fears and concerns. This article hopes to demonstrate how this behavior has evolved over a century of regulatory engagement and to assert that these actions can be regarded as a form of violence, as it deliberately prolongs and exacerbates somatic harm against populations who continue to suffer adverse health effects as a result of continued exposure to hazardous products. Lead Lead is perhaps the most widespread and historically ubiquitous industrial chemical that has continually affected human health from ancient times to today. It is also one of the first modern chemicals around which industry actors waged a substantial campaign seeking to prevent regulation from occurring (Markowitz and Rosner, 2013). To this day, in both developed and developing countries, lead remains a leading cause of adverse health outcomes from environmental exposure, in large part because of historical industry obstructionism in regulatory processes. Because lead is something that does not degrade in the environment, many of the ongoing sources of exposure around the world can continue to be directly linked to the behaviors of an industry that spent decades investing in strategies of regulatory obstructionism. The somatic harm that has ensued from this engagement is something that continues to diffuse across both spatial and temporal dimensions. Some of the first pioneering medical work on lead poisoning appeared in 1767, when lead crushing weights were found to blame for a widespread colic caused by cider consumption in Devonshire, England (Hernberg, 2000). However, clinical descriptions of lead poisoning were not established until 1831 and 1832, followed by an influential study outlining 1217 cases of lead poisoning that was published in French in 1839 and English in 1848 (Rom and Markowitz, 2007; Mushak, 2011). Subsequent efforts to develop lead regulations were also accompanied by early forms of regulatory obstructionism. In response to proposed regulations for pottery factories, British manufacturers and factory owners mounted a campaign to deny any connection between lead poisoning and occupational tasks, arguing that in 9 out of 10 cases, lead poisoning was due to ‘the workmen’s careless, dirty, slovenly habits’ and that ‘efficient washing of the hands with hot water and soap was the best preventative’ (Meiklejohn, 1963: 173–174). In a similar manner, during debate in the House of Commons surrounding an 1898 regulation to restrict lead-glazed wares in public institutions, a pro-industry Member of Parliament argued that poisonings were caused not by lead, but by beer contaminated with arsenic (Meiklejohn, 1963). When public opinion turned against the pottery industry as a result of ongoing awareness campaigns by labor groups such as the Women’s Trade Union League, manufacturers attempted a different strategy, boasting about social responsibility and research investments in alternative glazing methods (Meiklejohn, 1963). More recently, environmental exposure has come primarily from the use of lead in paint and the use of tetraethyl lead (TEL) as a gasoline additive. Public health officials first raised concerns about the effects of lead paint in the 1900s, although the issue did not begin to receive wider attention until the 1920s (Needleman, 1991). In response to rising public concern, the Lead Industries Association (LIA) was founded in 1928 in order to coordinate strategies to prevent, delay and weaken future regulation of lead products. To do so, the industry focused on hiding the existence of harm. As Markowitz and Rosner (2013) describe, ‘the LIA did everything in its power to obscure the health dangers associated with lead’ (p. 45). These strategies involved engagement with science, through the funding of pro-industry science that downplayed risks; engagement with the media and public, in the form of directed public relations campaigns asserting the safety of lead; and engagement with political structures, such that the LIA would systematically fight against any efforts to restrict lead products (Rosner and Markowitz, 2007; Markowitz and Rosner, 2014). As a result of their actions, millions of children and adults in the USA have been continually exposed to unsafe levels of lead over the course of their lifetimes in what has been called a ‘silent epidemic’ and a ‘public health tragedy’ (Fee, 1990; Markowitz and Rosner, 2000). As a result of LIA strategies, federal regulations on lead paint were not established until 1971. Since that time, paint has remained a major source of childhood lead poisonings, as lead does not degrade in the human environment, but rather finds its way into dusts and soils. Today, lead-based paint continues to be the primary source of low-level lead exposure in children, resulting from deteriorating lead paint that was applied prior to regulatory intervention (Lanphear and Roghmann, 1997; Gaitens et al., 2016). Here, the somatic harm caused by regulatory obstructionism is something that continues to be diffused across a timeline that in many cases spans over half a century. Leaded gasoline follows a similar story. Beginning in the early 1920s, petroleum companies began adding TEL to gasoline to improve engine performance and increase profitability. For the next 50 years, the oil and chemicals industry orchestrated highly effective campaigns and strategies to prevent and delay the regulation of lead in gasoline. Even in the 1960s, as a consensus emerged on the risks of environmental lead exposure, industry groups continued to lobby politicians and challenge any scientists or studies that questioned the safety of lead (Warren, 2001; Markowitz and Rosner, 2014). Through substantial investment in scientific and political obstructionism, the chemicals industry was able to successfully delay any sustained form of regulation from occurring until the late 1970s, again maximizing profits at the expense of public health. At the beginning of the phaseout of leaded gasoline and leaded paint, the average blood lead levels of both Americans and Europeans were staggeringly high. In 1976, average lead levels in the blood of US children under the age of six were found to be 16.5 μg/dL (Kovarik, 2005: 394). To put this in perspective, more recent studies have established that intellectual deficits begin to appear with blood lead levels of 7.5 μg/dL, and substantial damage to reproductive, cardiovascular and immune systems begins at 10 μg/dL (Lanphear et al., 2005; Mushak, 2011). Following regulatory actions, lead blood levels across the country fell substantially, which may have been a contributing factor in subsequent increases in average human intelligence as well as reductions in violent crime (Lanphear et al., 2005; Reyes, 2007). However, despite complete bans on leaded gasoline by US regulators in 1996 and by the European Union in 2000, leaded gasoline remains prevalent in some developing countries (Cooper, 2011). Slow violence stemming from lead exposure can span a whole lifetime, leading to quantitatively measurable losses in quality of life. Based on the model of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), if a child between the ages of 0 and 4 years is exposed to lead resulting in blood/lead levels of 2 µg/dL, ignoring all other developmental and physical consequences, they are expected to experience an average IQ loss of 1.9 points, reducing lifetime earnings potential by 3.3 per cent (Miller and Bhattacharya, 2013). Other long-term qualities of life losses caused by lead exposure include habitual irritability, reproductive damage, learning disabilities and behavioral disabilities. Again, as a result of unethical and dishonest attempts to subvert, delay and prevent regulation, the widespread diffusion of adverse health effects caused by the continual sale of leaded gasoline should not be seen as resulting from a lack of scientific understanding, but rather as a form of violence committed by unscrupulous corporations operating under a set of logics that place profits above human health. The violence caused by these acts of obstructionism has been diffused across both space and time, as lead continues to persist in the dusts, soils, waters and airs of human environments. Benzene Industrial production of benzene began in the mid-19th century, and although its primary application was as a solvent, it was also central to one of the first processes used to decaffeinate coffee (Katz, 1987). Since then, it has become an important industrial chemical and is widely used as a precursor for the synthesis of other chemicals, as well as in the production of polymers, resins and synthetic fibers (Falzone et al., 2016). The story of benzene regulation follows a similar path as lead. Although the negative health effects of exposure were established in the early 20th century, regulation has moved forward at a snail’s pace as a result of industry obstructionism. The toxicity of benzene was first documented in the bicycle tire industry in the late 1800s, but did not receive substantial attention until the 1922 publication of Alice Hamilton’s work The Growing Menace of Benzene (Benzol) Poisoning in American Industry (Snyder et al., 1975). Hamilton found that benzene exposure caused chronic blood conditions that were later found to be the result of severe bone marrow damage (Hamilton, 1931). The first record of cancer (leukemia) caused by benzene exposure was recorded in France in 1928, and subsequent studies have causatively linked exposure with multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, acute and chronic lymphomatic leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia and lung cancers (Graham et al., 1991; Huff, 2007). The chemicals industry knew about the health risks posed by benzene from early on, evidenced by a 1948 American Petroleum Institute study and a 1958 study from the Esso Oil Medical Research Division which concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to benzene (Clinton, 1948; Moyers et al., 2001). However, despite this knowledge, the chemicals industry instead coordinated a campaign that exploited the complexity of exposure science to challenge any conclusions that connected adverse health outcomes with exposure (Infante, 1987, 2001; Huff, 2007). After US regulators set an occupational exposure limit of 1 ppm in 1977 and 1978, the chemicals industry sued, entering into an adversarial series of legal battles. Despite internal assertions by their own scientists that there was no such thing as a safe level of exposure, industry lawyers successfully convinced the courts otherwise, resulting in the so-called Benzene Decision, which greatly weakened the power of regulatory agencies in the USA to create occupational health and safety standards for chemical exposure (Sullivan, 1981; Infante, 2001; Markowitz and Rosner, 2013). Here, the manipulation of epidemiology and misrepresentation of science proved to be powerful tools to obstruct potential regulation (Egilman and Howe, 2007). Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) includes benzene as one of it’s ‘10 chemicals of major public concern’ and identifies the most common routes of environmental exposure in automobile exhaust, industrial emissions, cigarette smoke and off-gassing from building materials (WHO, 1993). Other notable sources of exposure include groundwater contamination and consumer products. However, the most vulnerable populations are factory workers who remain inadequately protected under occupational health codes that in many cases have remained unchanged since the 1980s as a result of industry roadblocks. Again, the harmful effects of benzene exposure, including increased cases of childhood and adult leukemia, can be seen as diffused violence caused as the direct result of unethical actions taken by the chemicals industry to obfuscate science in order to delay, weaken and prevent regulatory action. Asbestos When individuals are exposed to asbestos fibers, respiratory problems typically emerge only decades later. The most common sequelae is mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. The latency period between exposure and mesothelioma is typically between 12 and 20 years, although in some cases, symptoms may appear 40 years or more after exposure (Berry et al., 2012). Asbestosis, a condition characterized by scarring and inflammation of the lungs, typically manifests around 15 years after exposure, with peak deaths occurring 25–30 years later. Other cancers caused by asbestos exposure have latency periods of between two and four decades (Selikoff et al., 1980). The harmful effects of asbestos were first recognized in the early 20th century by factory inspectors in Britain and France, and asbestosis was identified as an occupational disease by the 1930s (Murray, 1990; McCulloch, 2005). In response, the first government efforts to regulate asbestos exposure were launched in England in 1931 (Wikeley, 1992). Facing an existential threat, the asbestos industry began a lengthy campaign to fight for its survival. By controlling and dominating scientific research on asbestos, the industry was able to prevent widespread awareness of asbestos-related diseases until the 1960s (Murray, 1988; Wikeley, 1992; Egilman and Billings, 2005). Despite internal acknowledgment of the hazards associated with asbestos, by insisting that scientific certainty be a prerequisite for regulatory decision-making, and by hiring scientists to engage in regulatory obstructionism, to this day the industry has parried a complete ban in USA (Markowitz and Rosner, 2013; Lemen and Landrigan, 2017; Rosner and Markowitz, 2017). Of OECD countries, the USA, Canada and Mexico are the only three that have not yet enacted bans. In many developing countries, asbestos use and production continue to this day. Kazan-Allen (2005) show that global asbestos use is directly correlated with the incidence of asbestos-related diseases and suggests that global asbestos producers have shifted their markets to developing countries, where regulations are either non-exist or easier to manipulate. As the global asbestos market shifts to developing countries, one can expect that the global burden of asbestos-related diseases will follow. The World Health Organization estimates that today, about 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in their workplace, and that each year asbestos exposure is responsible for 107,000 deaths (WHO, 2014). Again, these deaths should not be regarded as a side effect to a lack of scientific understanding, nor as a consequence of industrial progress. Rather, the deaths of these victims should be placed at the feet of the global asbestos industry, whose strategies to obfuscate science and obstruct regulatory action amount to a form of violence that continues to threaten public health. PCBs and Dioxins PCBs are another class of chemicals that have been discovered to cause substantial damage to human health. From the 1920s to the 1980s, these chlorinated organic compounds were produced in massive quantities primarily for use in electrical equipment because of their insulating properties and ability to withstand high temperatures. They were previously used as hydraulic fluid and heat transfer fluid and were ingredients in PVC plastics, paints, adhesives and lubricants. It is estimated that the total worldwide production of PCBs (excluding the USSR and China) was about 1.5 million tons (Colborn et al., 1996). Today, because of their persistence and tendency to travel, these chemicals can be found quite literally everywhere, inside virtually all humans and ecosystems (Colborn et al., 1996; Koppe and Keys, 2001). The chemicals industry was aware of the adverse health effects of PCB exposure since the 1930s. After three exposed workers died at a Halowax Corporation factory in New York, an investigative study confirmed that PCB exposure causes severe liver damage in rats. The results of this study were presented at a meeting attended by all of the major PCB actors, including Monsanto, General Electric (GE) and Halowax (Koppe and Keys, 2001). However, little to no action was taken by these companies for decades, even though by 1953 Monsanto knew about toxic dioxins and dibenzofurans in their PCB products, and GE had documented 43 references on the health dangers and possible lethality of these substances (Francis, 1998; Environmental Working Group, 2009). The dangers of PCBs first came to the attention of the general public in 1968 as the result of a mass poisoning in Yusho, Japan, caused when a leaking heating pipe spilled PCBs into a batch of rice oil. As a result of increased public concern about PCBs, the chemicals industry went on the defensive, externally denying the existence of harm, while internally noting that stopping production of PCBs was not an option because it would cause ‘profits to cease and liability to soar because we would be admitting guilt of our actions’ (Francis, 1998; Koppe and Keys, 2001: 67). To delay action, the chemicals industry began a global campaign that included lobbying efforts, fraudulent science and a strategy of denial (Francis, 1998; Environmental Working Group, 2009). Despite these efforts, in 1973 the OECD took action to ban PCBs in ‘open use’ applications, sparking more stringent national regulations. Eventually, the manufacturing, processing and distribution of PCBs were prohibited in the UK in 1978 and in the USA in 1979 (Koppe and Keys, 2001). Here, violence can be attributed to the actions of the chemicals industry in general and Monsanto in particular. Although Monsanto had long known about the harmful effects of exposure, they continued to develop, produce and market new PCB products while suppressing internal studies demonstrating harm. However as is typical of diffused violence, most victims will never know that chemical companies are responsible for their cancers or miscarriages (Helmfrid et al., 2012). Parents whose children have behavioral disorders, lower IQ and abnormal sexual development will not recognize that PCB exposure created these issues (Osius et al., 1999; Vreugdenhil et al., 2002; Stewart et al., 2008; Eubig et al., 2010). Because of the slow, gradual and often invisible onset of health effects, the damage caused by chemicals industry behavior is typically not regarded as violence at all. Discussion These four cases have demonstrated how chemical industry actors respond when faced with the threat of regulation. The actions taken by the chemicals industry on phthalates, chromium, formaldehyde, styrene, mercury and many different pesticides have all followed very similar paths as the four substances outlined in this article. As Dr Philip Landrigan notes, ‘It’s almost inevitable that when a chemical becomes part of the political process that its regulation is going to be delayed. A chemical that has no commercial value is easy to regulate’ (Moyers et al., 2001: 51:11). Today, examples of regulatory obstructionism can be found in a wide range of environmental contaminants. Notable efforts are being undertaken by the chemical industry in response to attempts to regulate endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), a class of substances that are classified by their ability to adversely affect endocrine system functions, even at very low levels of exposure (Aho, 2017). Recently, substantial media attention has been placed on the regulation of the two pesticides, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate, which have been recognized as EDCs. These chemicals have been diffused among human populations through residential use, chemical residues on produce and in water sources contaminated by agricultural runoff (Zartarian et al., 2000; Myers et al., 2016; Rauh et al., 2006). Accentuating the fact that diffused violence does not occur equally, farmworkers and their families are among the most vulnerable populations that face adverse health outcomes as a result of pesticide exposures (Kamel and Hoppin, 2004; Butler-Dawson et al., 2016). Scientists have spent decades studying and documenting adverse health outcomes associated with the continued production and use of these two products, and yet chemical industry actors continue to engage strategies of regulatory obstructionism in order to prevent, delay and weaken regulatory outcomes. Although the violence of regulatory obstructionism analyzed in this article is diffused across societies, it is important to stress that diffusion does not occur equally across all populations. Socioeconomic status plays a major role in variable exposure to environmental contaminants (Cushing et al., 2015); in general, poor populations face environmental exposures to a greater degree than wealthy populations, such that marginalized populations face a disproportionately higher degree of adverse health outcomes (Evans and Kantrowitz, 2002). To put the extent of this type of violence into perspective, a recent Lancet commission on pollution and public health concluded that pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today and is responsible for one in six deaths globally (Landrigan et al., 2017). Exposure is thus responsible for 3 times more death than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined and 15 times more death than all other forms of violence, including conflict and war combined (Landrigan et al., 2017). However, the study includes only well established ‘pollution-disease pairs’ for which there are ‘robust estimates of their contributions to the global burden of disease’ (p. 468). These numbers do not include any exposure–disease connections for which associations are not yet fully characterized, including endocrine disruptors, developmental neurotoxicants, and diseases and conditions of the central nervous system such as autism. As scientific understanding of the links between exposure and disease improves, the scope of the chemical industry’s diffused violence is positioned to grow in magnitude. The general public, however, remains relatively unaware of the extent by which environmental exposure affects public health (Scruggs and Moore, 2016). Despite half a century of warnings from toxicologists and environmental health scientists, public perception of chemical exposure remains couched in modes of thinking that tend to ignore the fact that the continued diffusion of harmful substances is the result of social processes. Rather, as Beck (1992) observes, ‘these are generally viewed as matters of nature and technology, or of economics and medicine. What is astonishing about that is that the industrial pollution of the environment and the destruction of nature, with their multifarious effects on the health and social life of people … are characterized by a loss of social thinking’ (p. 25). By highlighting how regulatory obstructionism has become engrained in the modus operandi of the chemical industry, this article seeks to reframe how environmental health practitioners approach the science–policy interface. Within the context of regulatory politics, the concept of violence can serve as a powerful tool to help provide important somatic context to the policymaking process. Conclusion The concepts of structural and symbolic violence have developed into powerful tools for making visible and critiquing the many ways that social structures, institutions and hierarchies can oppress and harm people by restricting their human potential. These concepts have played powerful roles in advancing modern sociological research and have had substantial influence on the emergence of modern social justice movements. As stressed by Freire (1970), liberation from systems of oppression requires salience of one’s positionality as either oppressed or oppressor. In a similar way, it may be beneficial for chemically exposed populations to recognize their positionality as victims of diffused violence, as well as for industry actors to be made aware of their positions as perpetrators of violence. By framing regulatory obstructionism as a form of violence, this article seeks to create a bridge between the social sciences and the physical sciences, supporting a line of reasoning that draws a direct connection between perpetrator and victim. This act of linking is a necessary condition for developing public resistance to power structures that enable industry actors to continue to exert undue influence over regulatory processes. In most cases, the forms of diffused violence examined in this article have come to be viewed by the public as mere latent side effects of technoscientific progress that are legitimated in the eyes of the public due to the fact that they represent unforeseen consequences (Beck, 1992). To a certain extent, this narrative holds true as public health scientists must necessarily play ‘catch up’ with a chemical industry, which has an inundated society with an unprecedented variety of new products. However, once the existence of harm has been established, acts of industry obstructionism strip away any sense of innocence and delegitimize the damage caused by environmental exposure, shifting the somatic harm from a category of unforeseen consequences to a category of violence. This type of violence stems from the behaviors of industry actors that, for the past century, have consistently placed a higher value on corporate profit than on public health. Industrial chemistry has an important role to play in the continued advancement of human societies; however, more social and environmental responsibility are needed to direct industry behaviors such that profits are not maximized at the expense of public health. Conflict of Interest None declared. References Aho B. ( 2017 ). Disrupting Regulation: Understanding Industry Engagement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals . Science and Public Policy , 44 , 698 – 706 . Google Scholar Crossref Search ADS WorldCat Beck U. ( 1992 ). 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Public Health Ethics – Oxford University Press
Published: Jul 1, 2007
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