Interview with Ken Geiser, founder of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute

The Toxic Avengers

Dec 14 2021 • 1 hr 25 mins

Throughout his career of teaching, writing and organizing, Ken Geiser has been one of the most important theoreticians of the Toxics movement, as well as a Johnny Appleseed, having a hand in the creation, development and sustenance of more than two dozen organizations, while mentoring many other Toxic Avengers.

Among many accomplishments, Ken was one of the authors of the landmark Toxics Use Reduction Act in Massachusetts. Ken served as the Director of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute from 1990 to 2003 and in 2001 published his first book, “Materials Matter,” while teaching as a professor of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

I spoke with Ken from his farmhouse in Maine.

In the interview, Ken offers a couple of stage-setting stories about his childhood in Scottsdale, Arizona and early experiences as an undergrad studying architecture at U.C. Berkeley. He describes the parallel paths of his graduate studies at MIT and his work organizing to protect neighborhoods from highway projects and waste dumps, to the creation of the National Toxics Campaign with John O’Connor.

Key events discussed in Ken’s evolution of understanding and engagement in the Toxics movement include the contaminated drinking water in Woburn, Massachusetts, the fight over a PCB dump in Warren County, North Carolina, and the death of thousands caused by the gas leak from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.

Ken describes the process leading to the passage of the Toxics Use Reduction Act in 1989, and his work following the law’s enactment, including his leadership of the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI). He recounts some of his extensive work with colleagues and allies across the country, building organizations to tackle various aspects of the Toxic Chemicals problem.

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