WSW: The Links Between Environment and Health
Ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber's most recent book is Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.
Her other books include Living Downstream, which is also the basis of a documentary film. Steingraber is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and other media outlets. She will speak Thursday night at Kalamazoo College. Steingraber will read from her most recent book during the event which begins at 8:00 in the Light Fine Arts Dalton Theater. Steingraber's appearance is part of the Changing Climate Series presented by Western Michigan University's Center for the Humanities.
Southwest Michigan was the scene of a massive spill of tar sands oil in 2010. The city of Kalamazoo is awaiting word on how much PCB contamination will be cleaned up from the Allied Paper Landfill site. Steingraber says, those issues along with being "in the cross hairs of the gas industry" for hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," makes Kalamazoo an important place to have a conversation on these issues. "PCB's, tar sands fracking, these will be part of the conversation that I want to have, and I can see no better place to have it than in Kalamazoo."
Steingraber's interest in the link between environmental factors and health was peaked when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer when she was 20. Steingraber told WMUK's Gordon Evans that she had planned on going to medical school. But since bladder cancer has a high rate of reoccurrence, Steingraber knew she was going to need regular exams to make sure the cancer had not come back. She decided that she didn't want the hospital to also be her workplace.
There is a history of cancer in Steingraber's family. Her mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer around the same time as Steingraber's bladder cancer. She also had an aunt who died from the same type of cancer. But Steingraber is adopted, leading her to explore whether the environment rather than genetics explained the cancer link among her family members.
In her book, Living Downstream, Steingraber looked at cancer rates in her hometown in Illinois. She also examined the public records to determine the contents of drinking water. Steingraber says not much research is being done to study that link.
In Raising Elijah, Steingraber uses term "well-informed futility" to describe how people turn away from more information about the environment. She says when there is a human problem that we feel we have no power to change, we tend to turn away. Steingraber says that's a problem as people face two crises right now. One is toxic contamination and the other is climate change.
Steingraber says there is some good news, she says many types of cancer are attributable to the environment and lifestyle. She says that means that we can control the risk of cancer. Steingraber says investments in green technology would help reduce carbon in the atmosphere, and can also improve reliability.
The issue of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" led Steingraber to get arrested last year. She says "I see fracking as the mother of all of our problems right now in the U.S. in terms of the environmental crisis." Steingraber says extracting natural gas will "continue the fossil fuel party long after we should be declaring it over." She says fracking for natural gas is "clean