Standards for Labs and Markets: Regulating Chemical Risks and International Trade, 1970–2010

Lunchtime Lectures
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture by Colleen Lanier Christensen, Ullyot Scholar at the Science History Institute. 

In the 1970s governments worldwide vastly expanded their premarket review of chemical data and with it the need for toxicological testing. Legislators and regulators weighed competing priorities: assessing health and environmental risks, economizing limited testing resources, and harmonizing different national testing requirements. In 1981, seeking to balance these priorities, the 24 industrialized nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted common chemical testing standards wherein member governments agreed to accept all data from toxicological tests that adhered to standardized test protocols and strict requirements for good laboratory practice. The rules helped to create an international infrastructure for chemical regulation: the standards made chemical data legible to and portable among bureaucratic governments, enabling governance by distant authorities while also liberalizing international trade. But in their effort to regulate laboratory practice to control market behavior, OECD members constrained the type of testing done and knowledge produced. In this talk I examine three key episodes in the history of these standards, from their initial creation by U.S. regulators in the 1970s, to their international adoption in the 1980s, and finally to recent debates about whether the rules enhance the quality of toxicological evidence for regulatory decisions. 

About the Speaker

Colleen is a PhD candidate in the history of science department at Harvard University. She earned an AB in sociology from the University of Chicago and a master of public health in sociomedical sciences and environmental health policy at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. 

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.