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Féron Aurélien

PhD student in History and Sociology of Science, EHESS

Postgraduate program: Health, Population, Social Policies, EHESS

Dissertation scholarship from the Île-de-France Region in the Major Interest Field Health, Environment, Toxicology (DIM SEnT)

Dissertation defended on 28 November 2018: Biochemical persistence and political recalcitrance. Socio-historical inquiry on the multiscale resurgences of an environmental and health problem

Jury

  • Mme Christine Dourlens, maîtresse de conférences, Université Jean Monnet de Saint-Etienne – Rapportrice
  • M. Jean-Paul Gaudillière, directeur de recherche Inserm et directeur d’études cumulant EHESS – Directeur de thèse
  • Mme Nathalie Jas, chargée de recherche, Inra – Co-directrice de thèse
  • M. Pierre-Benoît Joly, directeur de recherche, Inra
  • Mme Anne Rasmussen, directrice d’études, EHESS
  • M. Paul-André Rosental, professeur, Sciences Po – Rapporteur
  • Mme Heike Weber, professeure, Karlsruhe Institut of Technology

Presentation

Massively synthesized from the 1930s, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are among the chemicals whose uses have been progressively banned at the global scale for sanitary reasons, after many decades of industrial production and varied usages in industry as well as in commodities into offices and households. They have been described since the end of the 1960s as an omnipresent pollutant in the environment, accumulating in the bodies of living organisms, toxic, "persistent" (which – wherever it is – does not, or almost not, degrade over time), and which can be eliminated only by incineration at a very high temperature. These chemicals have been the subject of numerous political actions since the early 1970s: not only have the production and use of these substances been progressively banned, but regulatory devices and industrial sectors have been developed to carry their elimination out. This thesis examines how damages, problems, hazards and risks have been associated with PCBs and how all these have been managed. In this perspective, the world contamination by these substances appears, over the last five decades, as a recalcitrant problem: the multiplication of technical and political devices that have aimed at managing the (potential) adverse effects of PCBs have not prevent new problems from arising and certain types of problems already tackled in the past from resurfacing. Based on archives, interviews and documents collected online, this thesis first sets some milestones for a transnational history of the qualification and management of health and environmental issues related to PCBs since the beginning of their industrial production in 1929. It then focuses on three "cases" in France, between the mid-1980s and today, during which PCBs, from local problematization, prompted interventions of different actors, including scientists, associations and public authorities. Thus, it sheds light on scientific, technical, industrial, social and political dynamics that, beyond the consensus in scientific community on the biochemical persistence of these compounds, have made the political recalcitrance of the "PCB problem" over decades.

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