chapter  4
25 Pages

Pollution and the Body Boundary: Exploring Scale, Gender and Remedy


This chapter explores whether tort law can provide a remedy for the injury of ‘endocrine disruption’, at an individual or a collective level.1 Endocrine disruption occurs when synthetic chemicals with structural similarities to common sex hormones ‘trick’ the body into triggering various biological processes and reactions. Many activists in the environmental justice movement want to be able to say unequivocally that the ‘gender-bending’ of endocrine disruption is a new, dramatic and horrifying harm. But taking the example of the declining sex ratio of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, a Canadian aboriginal community experiencing chronic chemical pollution, demonstrates that finding a ‘harm’ or ‘injury’ in law is fraught with difficulties. On an individual level, an altered sex ratio (the number of boy babies born relative to the number of girls) cannot constitute a harm. No one mother could ever prove that she specifically was harmed; that she specifically should have conceived a boy. But her chances of welcoming a son seem to be less than they should be.2 The concern, from the perspective of the First Nation, is essentially one of cultural survival. It is the collective loss of a viable future. Thus the notion of a collective harm highlights the fact that this problem is situated in the context of an aboriginal community already struggling, as many are, with stemming the loss of culture and tradition amongst their people. Further, because emerging environmental health harms are often localised and concentrated around the worst pollution sources, and because they tend to be distributed along race and class differentials, endocrine disruption is a central concern of the environmental justice movement.