Houston, TX 77005
4:00 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012
On Campus | Alumni
In February 2011, an Ecuadorian judge awarded rural plaintiffs $9billion in a 17-year-long lawsuit against the Chevron Corporation. The lawsuit alleged that between 1964 and 1990, Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) spewed industrial wastes throughout its oil concession. Plaintiffs claimed that industrial wastes endangered the local ecology and undermined human health. At the core of the legal proceedings was the capacity to materialize or dematerialize the presence of toxic elements, derivative of Texaco’s operations, in the region’s soil and water systems forty-odd years after crude production began. Although the presence of crude and its by-products in the environment was not in question, the very toxicity of these elements was. In this talk, "The Toxic Matter of Crude: Law, Science & Indeterminacy in Ecuador and Beyond," Suzana Sawyer explores the imbricated legal-technical-chemical work that allowed toxins to matter, or not. In particular, Sawyer reads the technical reports produced by the plaintiffs’, the defendant’s, and the court’s scientific experts analyzing water and soil samples from alleged contaminated sites against transformations in EPA and industry science and regulation in the United States. Doing so helps unravel the socio-material formation of toxicity and risk. At issue, Sawyer suggests, in determining toxicity are interrelations among judicial, scientific, and molecular processes: how the admissibility and positioning of evidence and the spatial/temporal complexity of hydrocarbon compounds allow for multiple determinations of crude oil that index distinct toxic and non-toxic realities. This is the third in the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar lecture series, and will be followed by a screening of Crude from documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger.