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E-Seminars: E-Seminar Detail

E-Seminars in This Series

E-Seminar 1
Lead Poisoning and the Industrial Age

A Series of Two E-Seminars
The Politics of Pollution

The Politics of Pollution
E-Seminar 2, The Modern Threat of Plastics

Taught by: David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz

Introduced to a mass market after World War II, plastics quickly became a ubiquitous part of the American dream, promising "better living through chemistry." Cheap to make and flexible, plastics can be molded to resemble and replace a range of more expensive, traditional materials, covering everything from the siding on our homes to the wraps on our food. Despite the reputation of plastics as safe and sterile, their production and disposal pose serious health threats to workers and consumers alike. Some of these threats are known today, while others may not be identified for decades to come.

Video Preview
Professor Markowitz asks what role the public and the government should play in influencing the creation, regulation, and use of thousands of new, untested chemicals.

In their two-part series The Politics of Pollution, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, professors at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, examine the health impact of industrial production. In The Modern Threat of Plastics, the second e-seminar in the series, they focus on plastics—in particular, polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—as the paradigmatic substance of industrial disease for the second half of the twentieth century through today.

Using industry documents obtained through a lawsuit, Professors Rosner and Markowitz create a timeline of the plastics industry. They uncover early industry efforts to conceal cancer findings associated with the manufacture of plastics. They explore health threats related to the disposal of plastics and look particularly at the deadly substance dioxin, which is released when plastics are burned. They discuss the environmental racism inherent in locating PVC plants in poor and minority communities such as the Louisiana region now known as Cancer Alley. Finally, Professors Rosner and Markowitz confront the greater question of how industry and society should establish public-health policies when facing the scientific uncertainty associated with plastics and other new, untested chemicals and products.

E-Seminar Length:3-5 hours
Start Date:Anytime
Columbia Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni:FREE

Interested in this
Go to the e-seminar now*.

Note: Columbia students, faculty, staff, and alumni will need to use their University Network ID (UNI) to access e-seminars.

Outline | Instructor's Background | Recommended Reading | Technical Requirements

1. Introduction
2. Perceiving Plastic
3. Producing Plastic
4. Government Steps In
5. Public Awareness
6. Public Resistance
7. Beyond the Factory
8. Conclusion

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Instructor's Background
Instructor's Background
David Rosner
David Rosner is Professor of History and Public Health at Columbia University and Director of the Center for the History of Public Health at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. He received his doctorate from Harvard in the history of science and was University Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York. In addition to having received numerous grants, he has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, and a Josiah Macy Fellow. He has been awarded the Distinguished Scholar's Prize from the City University and the Viseltear Prize for Outstanding Work in the History of Public Health from the American Public Health Association.

Instructor's Background
Gerald Markowitz
Gerald Markowitz is Professor of History and Chair of the Department of Thematic Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Professor Markowitz has been awarded numerous grants, including from the National Endowment for the humanities. He is a recipient of the Viseltear Prize, from the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association, for outstanding contributions to the history of public health.

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Recommended Reading
Bullard, Robert D. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality. 3d ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000.

Bullard, Robert D., ed. Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994.

Colborn, Theo, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?: A Scientific Detective Story: With a New Epilogue by the Authors. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Doniger, David D. Law and Policy of Toxic Substances Control: A Case Study of Vinyl Chloride. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (published for Resources for the Future), 1978.

Hays, Samuel P., in collaboration with Barbara D. Hays. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955–1985. Studies in Environment and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Kroll-Smith, Steve, Phil Brown, and Valierie J. Gunter, eds. Illness and the Environment: A Reader in Contested Medicine. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Markowitz, Gerald, and David Rosner. Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution. Berkeley: University of California Press; New York: Milbank Memorial Fund, 2002.

Meikle, Jeffrey L. American Plastic: A Cultural History. Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Rosner, David, and Gerald Markowitz. Dying for Work: Workers' Safety and Health in Twentieth-Century America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. 1906. Reprint, with an introduction by Robert DeMott, New York: Bantam, 1981.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. 1939. Reprint, New York: Penguin, 1992.

Thornton, Joe. Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.

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Technical Requirements
You will need to use a computer with Internet access to complete this course. We recommend the following minimum configurations:

Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, or NT
64 MB of RAM (128 recommended)
Monitor: 800x600 resolution recommended
Connection: Internet service and 56K modem minimum
Browser: Internet Explorer 4 or above (Internet Explorer 5 strongly recommended) or Netscape 4.7 or above
Sound Card (if you can hear audio you have a sound card)
Plug-ins: RealPlayer 7 or later; Flash Player 5 or later; Acrobat Reader 5 or later
(all plug-ins are free)

MAC OS 8.6 or higher
64 MB of RAM (128 recommended)
Monitor: 800x600 resolution recommended
Connection: Internet service and 56K modem minimum
Browser: Internet Explorer 5 or above or Netscape 4.7 or above
Sound Card (if you can hear audio you have a sound card)
Plug-ins: RealPlayer 7 or later; Flash Player 5 or later; Acrobat Reader 5 or later
(all plug-ins are free)

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