Emerging contaminants, coerced ignorance and environmental health concerns: The case of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

By Wickham, Grace M., and Thomas E. Shriver
Sociol Health Illn
March 2, 2021
DOI: 10.1111/1467-9566.13253

Over the past decade, there has been widespread concern about environmental contamination linked to an emerging class of compounds known as PFAS [Poly- and per-fluorinated alkyl substances]. PFAS contamination has been found in drinking water across the United States. Despite the increased interest within the scientific community, little research has been conducted on community environmental health concerns related to this emerging contaminant. This article analyses the case of PFAS water contamination in eastern North Carolina stemming from industrial production. Drawing from in-depth interviews, newspaper articles and government documents, we examine how uncertainty has permeated the case and influenced both official and community responses. Specifically, we analyse corporate and political officials' production of "coerced ignorance" surrounding PFAS and residents' perception of environmental and health concerns under conditions of uncertainty. Implications for future research on PFAS contamination and other emerging contaminants are discussed.


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