Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Key Concepts

See Toxic Expertise Project Results in Brief (2021) 'Exploring toxic expertise, the petrochemical industry and environmental justice,' CORDIS Research*eu Magazine, European Commission.

Toxic Expertise

We are surrounded by toxics in our everyday lives. Toxics are found not only in synthetic products but also in the natural environment. But just what can be considered toxic to human health, and at what levels of exposure? This is difficult to quantify and the subject of much debate, both scientifically and politically. Toxic Expertise refers to expertise - scientific, legal, economic, and lay- about the ‘toxic’. Debates about toxic expertise do not always fit within dichotomies: corporations versus communities, science versus anecdotal evidence, or corporate versus civil rights law. There are competing interests across jobs, prosperity, and health, and different approaches to risk and uncertainty. This project examines different forms of knowledge and expertise about how to measure, assess, mitigate, and regulate toxic substances. We aim to facilitate dialogue between wider publics and the academy about important questions of corporate social responsibility and the democratization of science.

Environmental Justice

Environmental justice is term that is at once an academic concept, a social movement, a policy principle, and a 'vocabulary of political opportunity' (Agyeman and Evans 2004). It is concerned with social inequalities in the benefits and risks in environmental decision-making, resource consumption, and pollution. Key areas of focus include the disproportionate burden of risks on disadvantaged, poor, and minority ethnic communities, and the unequal politics of power and voice in environmental decision making. The environmental justice movement has roots in the United States, with the convergence of the civil rights movement and the anti-toxics environmental movement in the 1970s. In recent decades, environmental justice has become truly global. Indeed, the language of environmental justice has been adopted by environmental justice organizations around the world.

Yet there are a number of different definitions, type of inequalities addressed, methods, knowledge claims, and alternative explanations in relation to environmental justice. In this project, we engage critically and reflectively with the framework of environmental justice, attentive to the many nuances and contexts of environmental concerns.


From the chair you are sitting on, to your plastic water bottle, your laundry detergent, your computer, and your medicine, it's likely that in one way or another all of these everyday, essential items are dependent on the existence of petrochemicals. Indeed, given their presence in so many everyday products, many would argue that we need petrochemicals and the industry that is responsible for them, an industry which also employs millions of people of across the globe.

However, petrochemicals are known to be toxic to human health, including the smoke billowing out of factories, and the chemicals leaching out of products into the air we breathe. Much progress has been made with mitigating the effects of petrochemicals on human health, through regulating toxic emission levels in factories and through banning or limiting their use in consumer products. But there are still many problems associated with petrochemicals and environmental health which remain unexplored, particularly beyond the level of particular controversies. People need jobs, medicine, transport, houses, and consumer goods, but they also need clean air to breath, safe places to work and live, and clean water to drink. Is it possible to have both: a successful petrochemical industry and healthy, prosperous communities?