Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Ecosystem Science and Policy (Graduate)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Kenneth Broad

Second Committee Member

Anthony Hynes

Third Committee Member

Richard Williamson

Fourth Committee Member

Daniel Sarewitz


Environmental mercury poses a potentially serious health threat to human populations, particularly through bioaccumulation and biomagnification processes which can concentrate ambient mercury to dangerous levels in fish, a food source for a significant percentage of the earth’s population. Emitted from both natural and anthropogenic sources, mass industrialization over the past few decades has significantly increased the amount of mercury in the environment, increasing health risks for humans and other organisms. A pollutant of both local and global concern, regulating environmental mercury risk has proven exceedingly difficult due to scientific uncertainty and numerous cultural, psychological, economic, and political factors. This dissertation consists of a series of self-contained yet thematically related research projects that explore mercury and the human relationship with it, with a focus on environmental governance in the face of scientific uncertainty and conflicting values. Collectively it is simultaneously a cultural history of mercury and the human relation with it, a critical policy analysis of the failures and successes of environmental governance as it relates to it, and a philosophical and sociological exploration of the difficulties in regulating complex problems like it.


mercury; environmental policy; policy theory; environmental governance; Minamata Convention; cultural models