The Tap Water Rebellion: Pollution, High-Tech Industrialization, and Suburban Politics in Silicon Valley

In 1986, Santa Clara County, California, had more Superfund sites than any other county in the nation. Other sites have captured the attention of U.S. environmental historians—Love Canal, the Cuyahoga River fires, the Valley of Drums in Kentucky—but overlooked in these stories are the presence of toxics in Silicon Valley. The supposed cleanliness of high-tech industrialization gave way under the widespread presence of toxic chemicals throughout Silicon Valley. Suburbanites reacted by forming an environmental critique of high tech, along the way reshaping environmental politics in the Valley. While Silicon Valley is often thought of for it’s libertarian-leaning politics, this masks the realities of suburban liberalism and its reactions to environmental degradation, public health, and capitalism. By examining how suburban liberals responded to the presence of widespread toxics, this paper explores how environmental politics were shaped in the Valley and surfaces liberal suburban politics in contrasts with the “Rise of the Right” narratives dominant among scholars. 

Host: American Society for Environmental History | Mar 7, 2018


Greetings! My name is Jason Heppler. I am a Digital Engagement Librarian and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a scholar of the twentieth-century United States. I often write here about the history of the North American West, technology, the environment, politics, culture, and coffee. You can follow me on Twitter, or learn more about me.