The chemical geographies of empire: Zika, reproduction, and toxicology in Puerto Rico

Authors: Paige Patchin*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: public health, empire, chemicals, sovereignty, reproduction, virus
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Grand Couteau, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Zika virus became an international public health crisis in 2015 when it was discovered to damage growing fetuses. It is an unruly virus, transmittable by mosquitoes and sex, which was estimated by the CDC to infect up to one-fourth of the population of Puerto Rico. This presentation explores the management of Zika's biological uncertainty in Puerto Rico - of its spread, and of its reproductive outcomes - through the use of chemical pesticides, which bring their own forms of biological uncertainty. Drawing from fieldwork in Puerto Rico, I argue vector control in the name of the pregnant woman and the child to have privileged preventing the virus from establishing itself on the US mainland over Puerto Rican well-being, thereby depositing chance of chemical harm on the island. I also discuss opposition to chemical Zika management on the island, which is built upon an understanding of chemical use as reproductive. This is very different from the understanding of chemicals, bodies, and environments that underpins modern toxicological science. As human and nonhuman animal genomes, plants, soil, water, and atmosphere become increasingly enmeshed in toxic chemical relations, perhaps we might learn from the reproductive chemical consciousness articulated by Puerto Ricans.

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