My Reflections on Living Downstream

Abstract The purpose of this paper is to reflect on Sandra Steingraber’s book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment. I will examine Sandra Steingraber’s compilation of scientific studies that link environmental pollution, contamination and toxicity to various types of cancers in humans and in animals as well. I will also discuss my personal opinion of the book, how my thinking and perspective has changed as a result of this book, and the importance and value of educating oneself by reading books such as this. RUNNING HEAD: MY REFLECTIONS ON LIVING DOWNSTREAM 3.

My Reflections on Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment Sandra Steingraber, an acclaimed ecologist, biologist, author, and cancer survivor has spent years educating others on the environmental factors that contribute to reproductive health problems and various types of cancers. Her book titled Living Downstream, which was first published in 1997, was one of the first books to bring together the data on environmental toxicity and the data on cancer incidences in an effort to expose any patterns that may exists.

The result is an intriguing personal narrative, in which Steingraber breaks down a wealth of scientific data and medical literature into an easily comprehendible analysis of the relationship between environmental factors such as the food we ingest, the water we drink, and air that we breathe, and the land on which we live and work, to cancers of all kinds. The book begins by paying tribute to Rachel Carson, a wildlife biologists and author of Silent Spring which was published in 1962.

Carson’s work, much like Steingraber’s, pioneered the discussions surrounding chemical pollutants and the environment. Carson sounded the alarm to the infamous DDT, which was banned some years later. No doubt, Steingraber was influenced by the writings of Carson. But I believe that her true motivation for writing such a cautionary book stems from her own battle with bladder cancer, and her investigation into the carcinogens that were released into the air and water in and around her hometown.

Throughout her investigation Steingraber discovered that bladder cancer was considered an environmentally caused cancer and even though those carcinogens had been identified, they were still being released by industries. I believe that this appalling discovery led her write Living Downstream. Sandra Steingraber is a cancer survivor, however others are not so lucky. Overall cancer is the second leading cause of death within the American population.

According to Steingraber, cancer strikes over 40% of the population, with the biggest upsurge taking place within the last few decades. RUNNING HEAD: MY REFLECTIONS ON LIVING DOWNSTREAM 4 Since less than 10% of cancer is caused by inherited genes, more than 90% of cancer is created by encounters with toxins not occurring naturally in the environment (Steingraber, 1997). Yet for some reason the current trend in science is to focus on the genetic causes of cancer rather than the more significant preventable causes of cancers.

Steingraber states that shining the spotlight on inheritance focuses us on one piece of the puzzle that we can do absolutely nothing about (Steingraber, 1997). Genetics does not give us the cause, nor does it give the answer. The answer lies in prevention. True, despite the abundance of evidence, we may never be able to prove beyond all doubt that the contamination in our environment is responsible for the vast majority of cancer cases, however we can and should implement the Precautionary Principle.

There is no reason to wait until we have perfect scientific proof to stop contaminating the environment with carcinogens. Steingraber states that a woman’s body is the first environment. Whatever contaminants are in a woman’s body find their way into the next generation (Steingraber, 1997). Even though we already know that these contaminants are not healthy, our society is still endlessly reliant on them. These invisible toxins and harmful chemicals are having devastating effects on communities, the environment, people and animals, and the proof is all around us.

In my opinion there is no better reason to implement the precautionary principle. In the book’s final chapter, Steingraber challenges the popular belief that it is each individual’s responsibility to prevent cancer by living a healthy lifestyle. She states that the current system of regulating the use, release, and disposal of known and suspected carcinogens –rather than preventing their use in the first place is intolerable.

Such a practice shows reckless disregard for human life. Also, when carcinogens are deliberately or accidentally introduced into the environment, some number of vulnerable persons are consigned to death (Steingraber, 1997). Simply put, our water, food and air should not contain the fear of cancer, and those who are allowing our life sources to be slowly poisoned are violating basic human rights. In conclusion, this book left me wanting to know more and to take action. I honestly always RUNNING HEAD: MY REFLECTIONS ON LIVING DOWNSTREAM 5 believed that cancers were mostly due to genetics. I never imagined that the environment could play such a huge role in terms of our health.

The most appalling aspect of this is that the general public has no idea of the dangers that surround them everyday. This book helped me to realize that cancer is most definitely not the unavoidable, unfortunate bi-product of modern life that most people believe it is. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially those who’s lives have been touched by cancer.

RUNNING HEAD: MY REFLECTIONS ON LIVING DOWNSTREAM 6 References Steingraber, S. (1997). Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks At Cancer And The Environment. Reeding, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, INC.

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