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ToxicDocs and A People’s EPA: Advancing Environmental and Climate Justice through Interdisciplinary Research and Open Access Initiatives

In this virtual panel presentation in honor of International Open Access Week: Open for Climate Justice, Dr. Jessica Varner (University of Southern California) and Dr. Merlin Chowkwanyun (Columbia University) come together to discuss their unique interdisciplinary research in the intersections of environmental history, public health history, and industrial pollution, and the ways in which their research both relies upon and generates open-access information. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Philip Cohen (University of Maryland). 

Dr. Varner’s and Dr. Chowkwanyun’s innovative work led to the creation of two resources which will be highlighted during the session. Toxic Docs, a project based at Columbia University and the City University of New York, is a dataset and website that contains millions of pages of once-secret corporate documents about asbestos, polyvinyl chloride, benzene, silica, and lead. A People’s EPA is an extensive website that provides a straightforward public history of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) programs, explains how the EPA works, and provides data and tools for users to explore and track the EPA in greater depth. 

The researchers’ passion for making information and data about the environment and industrial pollution openly available can serve as inspirational examples for others who wish to advance climate justice in their communities. 

This virtual event is co-sponsored by the UMD Libraries and the UMD School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation. 

Dr. Jessica Varner
is a historian, architect, activist, and Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Southern California’s Society of Fellows. She is a co-curator with EDGI on the “A People’s EPA (APE)” project, co-editor of the recent Aggregate Toxics project, and co-PI on a new National Science Foundation/STS-funded project on Cumulative Exposure. Her forthcoming manuscript, Chemical Desires: When the Chemical Industry met Modern Architecture (1870-1970), reveals how chemical corporations employed novel research, advertising, and sponsorship strategies to conscript architects and consumers as enthusiastic exponents of their products, while simultaneously unknowing harm, masking supply chains, adjusting building codes, and launching chemical “truth squads” to offset mounting environmental and human health concerns.

Dr. Merlin Chowkwanyun is an Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University. His work centers on the history of community health, environmental health regulation, racial inequality, and social movement/activism around health. He is the author of All Health Politics is Local: Community Battles for Medical Care and Environmental Health, which will be published by UNC Press. Dr. Chowkwanyun is the PI on a recent National Science Foundation Standard Research Grant for ToxicDocs.org, a depository of millions of pages of once-secret documents on industrial poisons.

Dr. Philip Cohen
is a Professor of Sociology and a demographer at the University of Maryland, College Park, where his research and teaching concern families and inequality. The founding director of SocArXiv, an open archive for the social sciences and an advocate for open science in the research community, Dr. Cohen writes about demographic trends, family structure, the division of labor, health disparities, and open science. He is the author of a popular textbook, The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, now in its third edition.

This event is free and open to the public. UMD Libraries welcomes individuals with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. Automatic captions will be available for this virtual event. If you have questions about the access provided, please contact libadmin@umd.edu. If you would like to request specific accommodations, please contact libadmin@umd.edu at least two weeks in advance of your participation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022
3:30PM - 5:00PM

Register via Zoom