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August 24, 1998

Faculty talk toxic emissions, milk, and America's ruling class

By Jennifer McNulty

UC Santa Cruz was well-represented during this year's annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, which was held in San Francisco. The meeting, which took place August 20-25, featured presentations and panel discussions by a number of UCSC faculty, graduate students, and alumni. Among the highlights were talks by Associate Professor Andrew Szasz, Assistant Professor Melanie DuPuis, and Professor Emeritus G. William Domhoff.

Szasz discussed his work gathering and analyzing 30 years of Census and EPA data to chart the course of toxics in Santa Clara County (see Web page). Szasz's sophisticated computer-generated maps reveal that toxic emissions are concentrated in a narrow band that parallels major transportation corridors--neighborhoods that tend to be poorer and more Latino than the rest of the county.

A leading researcher in the field of environmental justice, Szasz has documented changes from 1960 to 1990 in the racial makeup and median income levels of neighborhoods, and he uses the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) to track the presence of toxic materials.

Many of the hazardous chemicals used in computer chip manufacturing are included in the TRI list of toxic substances. In Santa Clara County, about 10 percent of TRI materials are emitted directly into the air; the bulk--nearly 75 percent in 1990--are shipped off-site to treatment and disposal facilities, according to Szasz.

Szasz's detailed profile of Santa Clara County is one of less than 10 such studies. Unlike most of the others, which have typically focused on older industrial, "rust-belt," cities, Szasz's work examines a community where more recent, "high-technology," industrialization occurred.

The rapid transformation of Santa Clara County from a productive agricultural region to a major electronics manufacturing center made it ripe for study, said Szasz. Now, with compelling evidence of environmental inequality in the region, Szasz says the question is what to do to protect people from being systematically victimized because of their race and income level.

Domhoff participated in an "author meets critics" session, discussing the new third edition of his classic Who Rules America?

When Domhoff first asserted that a wealthy few Americans control the United States, he didn't know he was creating a classic in the field of sociology. But his book became an academic best-seller, showing the institutional links among members of America's upper classes and how they influenced government policy making through their support of foundations, think tanks, blue-ribbon commissions, and institutes at prestigious universities.

The book was followed by Who Rules America Now?, and this year's Who Rules America? Power and Politics in the Year 2000, which includes new chapters on how the "power elite" influences party politics, the role of public opinion, and detailed case studies of key legislation.

Not everyone agrees with Domhoff, who defended his analysis during a session with three critics: Judith Stepan-Norris, assistant professor of sociology at UC Irvine; Paul Burstein, professor of sociology at the University of Washington; and Edward W. Lehman, professor of sociology at New York University.

DuPuis took a break from her summer research to discuss her work on the American dairy industry.

From picturesque milkmaids in the 1800s, to Elsie the Cow in the 1950s, to today's "Got Milk?" campaign, images and slogans from milk promotions have been imbedded in U.S. society for more than a century, reflecting our nation's role as one of the world's largest consumers of milk.

In her work, DuPuis examines with a critical eye milk's emergence as a cornerstone of the American diet.

"The idea that we have to drink milk every day is really a product of modern society," said DuPuis. "Cows only give milk when they're grazing, so daily milk wasn't even a concept until the late 1800s, when we developed a system to feed cows during the winter."

Drawn from research on her forthcoming book, "Nature's Perfect Food: Milk and the Advent of Modern Eating," DuPuis's talk critiqued existing histories of the dairy industry and traced the impact of industrialization on milk consumption and notions of nature and motherhood.

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