LIVING DOWNSTREAM by Sandra Steingraber


An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment
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 A graceful, precise delineation of the ugly marriage between synthetic chemicals in the environment and rising cancer rates, from poet/biologist Steingraber. Steingraber tracks the distribution of cancer across space, charts its trajectory through time, in an effort to pick up clues about origins and causes. And everywhere she looks are chemicals: benzene and chlordane, heptachlor and dieldrin, you name it--all have been linked to various cancers, all found heavy use in the postwar period (as herbicides and solvents, pesticides and fuel), when it was believed that chemicals would set humans free. What Steingraber achieves here is really quite stunning, a plaited tale that combines an environmental scientist's sensitivity for the land, a lucid biology of the mechanics of cancer, an exploration of the extent to which toxic chemicals have trespassed into air, water, soil, and food, and the patterns of cancer incidence that walk hand-in-hand with this environmental contamination; and the stories of her own cancer and those of her friends and family: ``In this new territory, you disrobe in front of strangers who are allowed to touch you. You submit to bodily invasions. You agree to the removal of body parts. You agree to be poisoned.'' At times the writing goes electric, as when Steingraber documents government obfuscation and the foot-dragging of industry, and readers may well find themselves in a fury: Why are these chemicals still used? Why are we exporting DDT to Mexico? How could profits be given priority over a child's life? The answer lies in the difficulty of establishing beyond doubt a cause-and-effect relationship between certain chemicals and certain cancers. But really: ``At what point does preliminary evidence of harm become definitive evidence of harm?'' It's not the first time this bleak association has been made- -remember Silent Spring?--but Steingraber's is a polished and powerful warning shot. It would be folly to ignore her. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-201-48303-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997


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