Book Review, Living Downstream...

Living Downstream
An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment

"Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment"
by Sandra Steingraber,
Addison Wesley, 1997,
ISBN 0-201-48303-3

The author opens the book with a fable about some people living in a village alongside a river:

"The residents who live there, began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river's swift current and so went to work inventing ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them. So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims into the river."

This book combines an analysis of the data from the toxics-release inventory and the recently available cancer registry data along with worldwide patterns of cancer incidence to produce a detailed picture of the consequences of many of the carcinogens we are releasing into our environment.

The author paints several vivid pictures of the mixed values we have in our public health regulations where we are concerned about people coming down with such and such cancer but don't care a whit about the manufacture and indiscriminate distribution of the materials that very probably brought on the disease.

One example of this pervasive behavior oriented judgement system in a layman's handbook about cancer from the U. S. Dept of Health:

I.e.: people get cancer because they live a "wrong" lifestyle, not because their DNA structure has been needlessly immersed in an ocean of carcinogenic materials from before they were born.

Another example - regulations for maximum allowable levels of some water contaminants are based on the annual average of only four quarterly measurements!

This a a book that illustrates very well that our society is indeed "living downstream" when it comes to dealing with hazardous chemicals and that we are more worried about fixing the symptoms than looking at what is causes the problem; it is highly recommended for everyone who wishes to know more about the physical, social and carcinogenic world we all live in.

Reviewed by E. Stiltner
Copyright (©) 1999

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