DATA: What data infrastructure supports recognition, characterization and response to anthropocenics in this setting? Who has access to relevant data and sense-making tools?


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May 18, 2021
In response to:

Data infrastructure supporting recognition of the anthropocenic air pollution in the context of the 6th Naphtha plants is the collection of health related and biological data, as it could be one possibility to sue. The data collected in scientific studies mentioned in the film were the concentration of a certain metabolite (produced when being exposed to VCM) in the bodies of children visiting the schools nearby and the incidence of cancer in the surrounding area. Doing medical and epidemiological research on these topics could help to set regulations. And - and that's maybe even more important to the people affected - if you can prove that you got a disease from being near the factory, you might be able to sue.

Jason Ludwig's picture
April 22, 2019

The question of data relates to Denise Brock’s key role in the passage of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). Brock independently collected thousands of documents related to the health of  workers in nuclear facilities like Weldon Spring in her efforts to show that they had been exposed to pathological levels of radiation. In many cases, their employers were fully aware of the dangers these workers faced, but kept this information to themselves or hidden away in the private documents that Denise uncovered decades later. Prior to Denise's work this information was not publically available, and if workers who had become ill wanted to receive compensation for worksite expose, they would have to undergo exposure reconstruction assessments, which--due to the lack of accurate and available data--were imperfect evaluations of the actual levels of radiation workers had been exposed to. Due to Denise's advocacy, which led to the passage of the EEOICPA, workers at nuclear facilities are exempted from the exposure reconstruction assessments and are eligible for compensation payments up to a maximum amount of $250,000, plus medical expenses for accepted conditions.

Denise's experience raises a few questions and reflections on data in the Anthropocene:

  •  Issues like worksite and environmental exposure are often plagued by invisibilities and what STS scholars have referred to as "agnotologies"--where can activists/scholars/any interested party gain access to relevant data in relation to these issues (in a similar fashion to Denise's work)?
  • For historians in particular: do the thousands of documents Denise complied consitute an archive? How can these and similar archival practices be Anthropocenic strategies?