We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Toxic Airs

Body, Place, Planet in Historical Perspective

Edited by James Rodger Fleming and Ann Johnson

Publication Year: 2014

Toxic Airs brings together historians of medicine, environmental historians, historians of science and technology, and interdisciplinary scholars to address atmospheric issues at a spectrum of scales from body to place to planet. The chapters analyze airborne and atmospheric threats posed to humans. The contributors demonstrate how conceptions of toxicity have evolved over many centuries and how humans have both created and mitigated toxins in the air. Specific topics discussed include medieval beliefs in the pestilent breath of witches, malarial theory in India, domestic and military use of tear gas, Gulf War Syndrome, Los Angeles smog, automotive emissions control, the epidemiological effects of air pollution, trans-boundary air pollution, ozone depletion, the contributions of contemporary artists to climate awareness, and the toxic history of carbon “die” oxide. Overall, the essays provide a wide-ranging historical study of interest to students and scholars of many disciplines.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (625.8 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (912.0 KB)
pp. v-vi


pdf iconDownload PDF (700.9 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (904.3 KB)
pp. ix-xvi

This edited volume examines toxic airs from the Middle Ages to the recent past on a variety of scales, from lungs to locales and from places to planetary processes. Chapters shed new light on the myriad ways that humans have feared and then made sense of the air they breathe and the climates in which they live. Such understandings have often opened avenues...

read more

1. Corrupt Air, Poisonous Places, and the Toxic Breath of Witches in Late Medieval Medicine and Theology

Brenda Gardenour Walter

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 1-22

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair, / Hover through the fog and filthy air.”1 So chant the Weird Sisters in the first act of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as they stare into the vaporous gloom, gleaning premonitions of horrific events yet to unfold. Although appearing only sporadically, the witches drive the play’s narrative, much as the winds they command drive sailors and their ships at...

read more

2. Surgeon Reginald Orton and the Pathology of Deadly Air: The Contest for Context in Environmental Health

Christopher Hamlin

pdf iconDownload PDF (849.1 KB)
pp. 23-49

The works on cholera of the Anglo-Indian military surgeon Reginald Orton (1790–1835) and of like-minded successors over the remainder of the nineteenth century have much to tell us about why issues involving air and disease have remained troublesome in our own era, both as matters for scientific study and as issues for public response. The goal of this chapter...

read more

3. Better to Cry Than Die? The Paradoxes of Tear Gas in the Vietnam Era

Roger Eardley-Pryor

pdf iconDownload PDF (5.4 MB)
pp. 50-76

Tear gas, a nonlethal chemical weapon typically used for riot control, presents several paradoxes. Tear gas is not a gas but a micropulverized powder that causes uncontrollable tears, irritated breathing, and escalating pain when inhaled in sufficient concentrations. Although classified as nonlethal...

read more

4. Toxic Soldiers: Chemicals and the Bodies of Gulf War Syndrome Sufferers

Susie Kilshaw

pdf iconDownload PDF (799.6 KB)
pp. 77-94

Sufferers of Gulf War syndrome worry about the risky and dangerous atmosphere to which they were exposed during the war and the lingering consequences of that exposure. The majority of veterans has a broad understanding of and anxiety about the role of chemicals in their illness, not only through chemical weapons, chemical warfare, and past hazards specific to...

read more

5. Deciphering the Chemistry of Los Angeles Smog, 1945–1995

Peter Brimblecombe

pdf iconDownload PDF (785.6 KB)
pp. 95-108

The way chemists understand urban air pollution and how they relate this understanding to policymakers underwent great transformations in the twentieth century. These changes cannot be simplified to notions such as: “pollution got worse,” because in many cities the concentrations of aggressive primary pollutants such as fly ash, smoke, and sulfur dioxide actually...

read more

6. Chasing Molecules: Chemistry and Technology for Automotive Emissions Control

Richard Chase Dunn and Ann Johnson

pdf iconDownload PDF (798.7 KB)
pp. 109-126

What air could be more obviously toxic than the tailpipe emission of an automobile? Everyone knows automobiles produce hazardous air pollution, whether as the components of visible smog or by emitting invisible, deadly carbon monoxide, or as other less well-known emissions. Yet many adults...

read more

7. CHESS Lessons: Controversy and Compromise in the Making of the EPA

Jongmin Lee

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.8 MB)
pp. 127-151

On November 29, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson visited the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit organization, to begin a weeklong commemoration of the EPA’s fortieth anniversary and celebration of its accomplishments on DDT, acid rain, recycling, unleaded gasoline, secondhand smoke, vehicle efficiency and emissions controls...

read more

8. A Heightened Controversy: Nuclear Weapons Testing, Radioactive Tracers, and the Dynamic Stratosphere

E. Jerry Jessee

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.1 MB)
pp. 152-180

On February 2, 1951, Merril Eisenbud, an industrial hygienist at the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) Health and Safety Laboratory (HASL) in New York State, received an urgent phone call from his colleague Henry Blair of the University of Rochester. The Eastman-Kodak Company in upstate New York had just notified Blair that the company’s film manufacturing...

read more

9. Burning Rain: The Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution Project

Rachel Rothschild

pdf iconDownload PDF (845.4 KB)
pp. 181-207

When fossil fuels are burned, certain pollutants released into the atmosphere can increase the acidity of precipitation and cause severe damage to ecosystems.1 These pollutants can travel great distances until they are eventually deposited in rain, snow, fog, or dust. Collectively known as “acid rain,” these phenomena have been observed throughout the world, but have...

read more

10. The Transmutation of Ozone in the Early 1970s

Matthias Dörries

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 208-229

During the early 1970s, public perceptions of ozone underwent a profound transformation. Previously regarded primarily as an annoying result of urban pollution, ozone became a molecule that protected the earth from harmful radiation. This new awareness of the role of the atmosphere in...

read more

11. Who Owns the Air? Contemporary Art Addresses the Climate Crisis

Andrea Polli

pdf iconDownload PDF (998.6 KB)
pp. 230-250

The accelerating crisis in climate change and the realization that humans are the primary cause of this change has raised questions about ownership and responsibility. Who “owns” the climate change crisis, and who is responsible for mitigating and reversing it if possible? The overwhelming response to these questions by governments internationally has been to...

read more

12. Carbon “Die”-Oxide: The Personal and the Planetary

James Rodger Fleming

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.6 MB)
pp. 251-270

Carbon dioxide is currently one of the most feared molecules on the planet. In trace amounts it is increasingly being linked to climate change. In much more concentrated amounts it is a narcotic or asphyxiating gas, known in antiquity as spiritus letalis,/em> and as “mephitic air” by early chemists; it has been employed, monitored, and controlled in modern times by anesthetists...


pdf iconDownload PDF (739.7 KB)
pp. 271-274


pdf iconDownload PDF (767.6 KB)
pp. 275-288

Back Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.1 MB)

E-ISBN-13: 9780822979524
E-ISBN-10: 0822979527
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822962908
Print-ISBN-10: 082296290X

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 11 b&w
Publication Year: 2014