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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 13, 2007

'Toxic Talk' focuses on environmental justice and sustainability

Environmental justice and sustainability will be the focus of a "Toxic Talk" symposium this fall at the University of Iowa.

Speakers with a wide range of backgrounds, including science and medicine, activism, film and theater, will engage in public conversations about the issues throughout the semester. The Toxic Talk Symposium, sponsored by the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry (POROI), the Graduate College and other UI divisions, begins with seminars in September and October and concludes with a conference in November.

"We want to focus on the discourse surrounding environmental justice and sustainability -- basically, the way diverse people talk about these topics," said Jim Throgmorton, a UI professor of urban and regional planning and an organizer of the events. "A minority community that's exposed to toxic chemicals would talk about it in terms of justice, whereas a scientist would talk about it in terms of, for example, measurable risk. We're trying to connect people with these different viewpoints in a discussion that increases public understanding about what's at stake and facilitates future conversations about solutions."

The series will use the "Rubbertown" area in Louisville, Kentucky, as an illustrative case. Rubbertown refers to a 60-year-old petrochemical complex on the city's southwest side. Nearby residents, many of whom are African American, are seeking change because they believe the plants' pollution has been harming their health for decades. Proposing changes also raises questions about the sustainability of the complex and about what might be done with the Rubbertown area should the plants close down.

Toxic Talk will also explore the meaning of sustainability and environmental justice. Sustainability generally refers to the notion that our current way of life will not be possible in the future because of the way we consume resources and generate pollution. Environmental injustice generally refers to a claim that minorities and individuals with low incomes are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals because of where they live or work. But such definitions are contested, so the terms, as well as how they are linked, will be part of the Toxic Talk discussions.

The following Toxic Talk events are expected to interest the public. A complete schedule of Toxic Talk events is online at

Monday, Oct. 8

--"Good Placemaking in Iowa City," Timothy Beatley, University of Virginia, and a UI Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor, 7-8:30 p.m., Iowa City Public Library, Room A.

Tuesday, Oct. 9

--"Native to Nowhere," Timothy Beatley, 7:30-9 p.m., 1505 Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences.

Friday, Nov. 2

--Exploring the Complexities of Environmental Justice and Sustainability Part 1: "The Legacy of the Manhattan Project and Cold War in Iowa," Laurence J. Fuortes, UI; "Mapping the Geography of Cancer," Gerard Rushton, UI; "Power Disparities in Stakeholders' Ability to Frame Environmental Justice Issues in the News," Julie Andsager, UI, 2:30-4 p.m., Iowa City Public Library, Room A.

--Exploring the Complexities of Environmental Justice and Sustainability Part 2: "Air Quality Regulation in Delhi, India: Environmental Justice or Injustice?" Naresh Kumar, UI; "Economic Growth Versus the Environment in Mexico," Craig Just, UI; "Intersections: Discourses of Social and Environmental Justice on Black Web sites," André Brock, UI, 4:15-5:45 p.m., Iowa City Public Library, Room A.

--Staged reading of "The Hard Weather Boating Party," a new play by MacArthur Fellow Naomi Wallace. Set in "Rubbertown, U.S.A., the play involves characters who've been harmed by industrial chemicals, 7:30-9 p.m., Thayer Theater, UI Theatre Building.

Saturday, Nov. 3

--"Organizing a Community to Protect its Health," Arnita Gadson, West Jefferson County Community Task Force, and University of Louisville/Kentucky Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development, 9:15-10:15 a.m., W151 Pappajohn Building.

--"Industrial Chemicals and Public Health Risks in Louisville," Harrell Hurst, University of Louisville, 10:30-11:30 a.m., W151 Pappajohn Building.

--"Educating and Empowering Environmental Justice Communities in Rubbertown," Wilma Subra, President, Subra Company, and a MacArthur prize-winning chemist who works with minority communities that believe they have been unjustly exposed to hazardous chemicals, 1-2:15 p.m., W151 Pappajohn Building.

--"Just Sustainability," Julian Agyeman, Tufts University, 2:30-3:45 p.m., W151 Pappajohn Building. The talk will be followed by "A Collective Conversation: Making Sense of Toxic Talk."

--Screening of the documentary "Libby, Montana," followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, 5-7 p.m., Becker Communication Studies Building.

A number of contributors and co-sponsors helped make the Toxic Talks possible: the departments of communication studies, geography, and theatre arts, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the intermedia area of the School of Art and Art History, all part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Program in Urban and Regional Planning, the School of Library and Information Science, the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, the Institute for Cinema and Culture, International Programs, the Institute of Inequality Studies, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

The Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program was established in 1978-79 based on a bequest from the late Ida Beam of Vinton, Iowa, who willed her family farm to the UI Foundation. The proceeds from the farm's sale enabled the UI to establish a fund that brings top scholars in a variety of fields to the university for lectures and discussions.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation to participate in this program, please contact POROI at 319-335-2753.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Jim Throgmorton, Urban and Regional Planning, 319-335-0037,; Nicole Riehl, UI News Services, 319-384-0070,