Bibliography, featuring sources on the history of Teflon, fluorocarbons, PFASs, PFOA & the Manhattan Project
Thread featuring photographs of key sources on the Manhattan Project and industrial fluorocarbons
Bibliography, featuring sources on the history of plastics, polyethylene, disposability and planned obsolesence
Selected as one of the “Best American History Reads of 2018” by Bunk History — “home for the web’s most interesting writing and thinking about the American past” — Bunk editor, Tony Field writes: “Behold one of my favorite pieces of the year, chronicling the rise and fall (hopefully not in a tree near you) of the plastic bag.”
Featured on The Browser—Writing Worth Reading
How The Benzene Tree Polluted the World (The Atlantic | October 2017)
Bibliography, featuring sources on the history of PCBs, organic chemistry & the organic chemical industry
The 55-Gallon Drum, An Object Lesson (The Atlantic | November 2016)
Bibliography, featuring sources on the history of the 55-gallon drum, toxic waste and the chemical industry
Bibliography, featuring sources on the social, environmental history of mass plastics & plastic pollution
Reviewed on Vela.
Interview about American Petro-topia here.
Reprinted in Utne Reader (Winter 2017)
Made into a documentary short by FrankNews (January 2019)
Aeon Magazine (2015)
"The daughter of a plastics manufacturer assesses the toxics that get passed from one generation to another, in her family and yours. First published in 2015, this story, like petrochemistry, stays with you." —Longreads.com
"Make(s) plastic achingly personal." —Toxic Legacies
"The way Altman’s essay tentacles in many directions is a simulacrum of the subtle pervasiveness of plastic itself and the ways in which it permeates our lives. It’s around us, in us, of us... It’s a complicated piece that has left me with a lot to think about..." —Amanda Giracca for Vela
"We must be more plastic— willing to adapt as changing environmental conditions press us."
The Legacy of Plastics (2017)
Herbst Theater, San Francisco | 10.10.2017
Watch Rebecca's TEDx talk here.
*Thanks to Kate Orff, Justin Hofman, Max Liboiron/CLEAR, Five Films, All Things Bakelite, and Chelsea Rochman & colleagues for permission to feature their maps, art, images, data and footage, and to Igor Celikovic, for helping to construct additional slides.
Histories of Industrial Chemistries
The Atlantic (2017)
The organic compounds that enabled industrialization have unintended, long-lasting consequences for the planet’s life.
On time capsules, Teflon, the atom bomb
and the fluorocarbon chemistry that made them possible.
Rebecca Altman is a writer and sociologist. Her work explores the social history of chemistry, plastics, pollution and environmental legacy— what we pass from one generation to the next. Recent essays have been published by The Atlantic, Aeon Magazine, Orion Magazine, Topic, Terrain, Brain, Child, and ISLE.
She is represented by Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates and is at work on a manuscript— an intimate history of plastics.
Rebecca holds a PhD in environmental sociology from Brown University, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Science and Environmental Health Network, a national think-tank. With SEHN, she has worked on projects from the rights of future generations to a livable planet to the perpetual care of communities affected by chronic contamination. She has taught courses on environmental health and justice for the Community Health Program at Tufts University, and speaks on topics ranging from plastics to legacy contaminants and creative nonfiction. Her research on biomonitoring, body burden(s), the environmental health movement, and toxic exposure has been published in such journals as The American Journal of Public Health, Environmental Health Perspectives, and the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Originally from New Jersey, Rebecca now lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband, their two sons and her in-laws.