West Lake Landfill

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The Language of Monitoring and Remediation

The labor of becoming a citizen scientist involves intense self-education. Activists have learned to read maps like this not out of personal interest—as a hobby citizen scientist might—but out of concern for their own survival and the survival of their children. These maps are tucked in appendices of documents only recently made available online by the EPA. Prior to that, activists had to dig through records at research libraries or make requests through the Freedom of Information Act. Even once the document is required, the barriers to understanding these documents are numerous and overwhelming: this map is in appendix B (there are 26 appendices) on page 286 of a 2,313 page jargon-riddled report that includes seven pages of acronyms as a key. This particular map is a historical map of monitoring bore-holes. Each hole has an assigned series of letters and numbers for identification and tests for a specific contaminant, also identified by a series of letters and numbers. Additionally, results are dependent upon the kind of soil or bedrock the hole is bored into, so to understand this map, one must also research the geological history of the site. Luckily, there is also an appendix and list of acronyms for those maps as well. Once the map is read and understood and the data compiled, more barriers prevent remediation. How does a concerned group of citizens—not scientists—access the politicians who have a relationship with the corporations who own and govern this site? How can they convince potentially responsible parties, that they, with no background in science, have concerns that should be taken seriously? Who would believe that a group of untrained citizens has spent months learning the esoteric language of monitoring and remediation? Who is doing whose job?

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Created date

February 18, 2020

Cite as

. 18 February 2020, "West Lake Landfill", Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 3 March 2020, accessed 18 January 2022.