Contested Illnesses: Disputes over Environmentally Induced Disease

Award Year:
Phil Brown
Environmental Health
Dr. Brown examines contested illnesses that involve major scientific disputes and extensive public debates over environmental causes. Because medical experts often fail to identify environmental diseases, these illnesses are frequently brought to light by victims and their advocates, scientists, and the media. The project focuses on three areas of major dispute - Gulf War Syndrome, small air particles and asthma, and environmental causes of breast cancer - and looks at how each condition became a social problem. Dr. Brown explores: 1) how victims and their lay allies identified diseases and organized to seek redress; 2) the roles played by government, professions, industry, advocacy/activist groups, and the media; 3) scientific and technological progress in disease detection and etiology and the development of less toxic products and processes; and 4) the effects of illness contestation on victims' health and on public health policy. Findings should demonstrate how environmental crises might lead to greater health protections and earlier treatment of disease.