Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Environmental Analysis

Reader 1

Char Miller

Reader 2

Brinda Sarathy

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Rights Information

© 2016 Emily A. Chittick


Focusing events are sudden, rare events that become known to policymakers and the public simultaneously, highlighting issues with existing public policy. Two case studies, the gas leak from the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch, and the publication of the Health Risk Assessment and discovery of lead contamination from Exide Technologies’ battery recycling facility in Vernon, are used to deepen theoretical insights into the development and functionality of industrial health crises as focusing events. The case studies suggest four key areas relevant to understanding focusing events. The first is the unique characteristics of industrial health crises, which often involve anthropogenic risks and a degree of contestation unusual in other focusing event literature. The second is the scale of analysis, balancing geospatial realities with local histories, broad social dynamics and power structures, and the multiscalar nature of policy change. Third, community activism plays multiple vital roles in pushing a potential focusing event towards lasting policy change. Finally, the incorporation of ideas from environmental justice into the focusing event framework results in a better understanding of power and privilege in the creation of, and response to, industrial health crises. All four aspects have been written about in other bodies of literature, but have not yet been brought to bear on the concept of focusing events. These four domains thus add nuance to the scholarly understanding of one aspect of the policy change process, and provide a starting point for further research into the processes governing our public policy systems.