Economic Poisoning: Industrial Waste and the Chemicalization of United States Agriculture, 1860-1945


ACLS Fellowship Program


School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences


“Economic Poisoning” tells the story of how US agriculture became a profitable sink for toxic industrial waste. It redeploys the term economic poison as an analytical concept to highlight the material and political economic origins of pesticides, arguing that agriculture developed in concert with mining, chemical, and petroleum industries and their waste streams. In doing so, it intervenes in contemporary sustainability debates by challenging the long-held and widespread notion that the internalization of externalities, or loop-closing, is an inherent social good. The transmutation of industrial waste into economic poisons, after all, did not eliminate waste; it merely redistributed it across the United States’ farms, fields, and bodies.