The History, Science and Politics of Trans-boundary Contaminants in the North

NIDC (2011)

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Researchers at Trent University are examining the history of knowledge of trans-boundary contaminants in the North. 


Over the last fifty years scientists have developed an understanding of how contaminants travel in the atmosphere from industrial and agricultural areas in the south, and become incorporated in northern ecosystems, with consequences for the health of humans and other species.  The formation of this knowledge has involved collaboration among scientists of numerous disciplines, including atmospheric chemists, ecologists, and toxicologists, using a variety of methods to construct a synthetic understanding of contaminants in both global and northern environments. This work has also involved novel forms of collaboration between scientists and northerners: working out questions, methods, and attitudes of inquiry that address their varied concerns and perspectives.  It has also implicated ideas about the north itself: as a “pristine” environment, distant from the rest of the world; as a component of global systems of the movement of materials; and as a homeland, in which humans find themselves exposed to toxic materials originating thousands of kilometers away.  This project therefore raises questions regarding how research agendas defined in terms of science interact with political and cultural issues, including environmental injustice. The research questions guiding this project are:

1) What has been the relation between knowledge of transboundary contaminants in the North, and the global development of contaminants science?

2) How has scientific knowledge of northern contaminants interacted with evolving ideas about the North as a site of Cold War confrontation, a resource storehouse, a “fragile” environment, or an Indigenous homeland?

3) How has knowledge of contaminants on global and continental scales interacted with knowledge of contaminants in northern communities?

4) How have the relations between contaminant scientists and northern communities evolved over time?


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