Simone Müller, Heisenberg Professor for Global Environmental History and Environmental Humanities at the University of Augsburg (Germany), discussed her book The Toxic Ship: The Voyage of the Khian Sea and the Global Waste Trade (University of Washington Press, 2023) in the Greenhouse environmental humanities book talk series on Monday 27 November 2023 at 4pm in Norway (Central European Time).
In 1986 the Khian Sea, carrying thousands of tons of incinerator ash from Philadelphia, began a two-year journey, roaming the world’s oceans in search of a dumping ground. Its initial destination and then country after country refused to accept the waste. The ship ended up dumping part of its load in Haiti under false pretenses, and the remaining waste was illegally dumped in the ocean. Two shipping company officials eventually received criminal convictions.
Simone M. Müller uses the Khian Sea‘s voyage as a lens to elucidate the global trade in hazardous waste—the movement of material ranging from outdated consumer products and pesticides to barges filled with all sorts of toxic discards—from the 1970s to the present day, exploring the story’s international nodes and detailing the downside of environmental conscientiousness among industrial nations as waste is pushed outward. Müller also highlights the significance of the trip’s start in Philadelphia, a city with a significant African American population. The geographical origins shed light on environmental racism within the United States in the context of the global story of environmental justice. Activism in response to the ship’s journey set an important precedent, and this book brings together the many voices that shaped the international trade in hazardous waste.