TOXIC NATION by Fred Setterberg


Causes, Consequences, and the Fight to Save Our Communities
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 In surveying communities across the country that have served as toxic-waste dumping grounds, journalist Setterberg and photojournalist Shavelson tell an increasingly familiar story: Residents are plagued by mysterious health problems. Children are dying of cancer. Drinking water comes out greasy. Streams run black. Nauseating breezes force school closings. Finally, ordinary, apolitical citizens start asking questions and turn for help to their local governments, their state capitals, the federal EPA. They're shocked to find officials and bureaucrats evasive, dismissive, sometimes downright hostile, prone to wasting time engaging in battles of the experts and seeking scientific evidence for a link between dumps or pesticide spraying and cancer. The successful citizens learn to trust their own instincts, take charge of the process, and apply political pressure; meanwhile, ``dignified,'' educated residents of some middle-class communities never learn the lesson and remain mired in mastering acronyms and data. In the course of their toxic travelogue, Setterberg and Shavelson intersperse individual and community profiles with a critique of the Superfund Law; a respectful comparison between the new crusaders and the Women's Christian Temperance Union; and a heap of evidence for environmental racism--the deliberate siting of toxic dumps in African-American and Hispanic communities. There's also an anomalous chapter on victims of ``multiple chemical sensitivity,'' a malady even the authors seem uncertain about. But Setterberg and Shavelson devote the most attention to McFarland, California, where the agenda of the late Caesar Chavez's United Farm Workers has clashed nastily with that of dying children's parents and friends, and where--because of the constraints and complexities of epidemiological research--studies failed to prove a cancer-pesticide connection even as scientists involved in the research remain concerned. The authors believe that rural, working-class, reluctant activists are reviving grass-roots democracy after decades of pervasive disengagement from civic responsibility--the one positive note in a sobering, effective alert. (Thirty photographs)

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1993
ISBN: 0-471-57545-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1993


NonfictionTOXIC FREE by Debra Lynn Dadd
by Debra Lynn Dadd