Lead to the Laboratory: The Ethics and Science of Lead Exposure Politics in Central Peru


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




A lead contamination controversy emerged in Peru fifteen years ago when a series of scientific studies revealed alarmingly high levels in regions where minerals are extracted, refined, and transported. This project ethnographically examines the dynamics that brought “lead to the laboratory” and the ethical dimensions of the ensuing political controversy. Carried out during the height of Peru’s foreign-funded mining boom, research with affected citizens, religious and secular advocates, scientists, and industry and state representatives revealed the promise and precarity of scientific evidence to serve as a political tool for communities impacted by the mining industry. While this project highlights how lead exposure science became an emblematic means to “objectively” translate moral injustices into evidentiary legal claims, the significant challenges faced by citizens and their advocates to establish political legitimacy also points to the limits of scientific authority within the power differentials and ethical regimes of neoliberal forms of governance.