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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Body Burden Politics: How Biomonitoring Data is Influencing Chemicals Governance in the U.S.

  • Author(s): Shamasunder, Bhavna
  • Advisor(s): Morello-Frosch, Rachel
  • et al.

This dissertation investigates how the proliferation of biomonitoring research in government, academic, industry, and advocacy arenas is influencing chemicals governance in the United States. Biomonitoring, the technology that allows for the measure of synthetic chemicals in human blood, breast milk, and other tissues, has rapidly emerged as a valuable tool for assessing exposures to toxic chemicals. Still, it remains a contested science since many chemicals that can be measured have not been the subject of health studies and are not associated with regulatory benchmarks. Scientists from industry, advocacy organizations, and government engage in heated debates about the implications of biomonitoring data for regulation. As biomonitoring technology has become more widely accessible, social movements have increasingly leveraged biomonitoring data to demonstrate the extent of toxic exposures.

Through case studies of the chemicals bisphenol A and chlorpyrifos, this dissertation investigates the circumstances under which biomonitoring data has been successfully leveraged by social movements to compel product substitutions and chemical phase-outs. It also examines the ongoing challenges to deploying biomonitoring data towards systemic change, particularly in vulnerable communities such as workers and fenceline communities, despite extensive health evidence.

This dissertation adds to literatures in environmental justice, environmental health, and science and technology studies, in order to better understand and therefore address the complex relationships among toxic chemicals, humans, and the environment.

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