Raising Elijah by Sandra Steingraber: The Thinking Mom’s Environmental Manifesto

What’s a mother to do? You can buy organic milk and skip the Happy Meal, but how do you protect tender young bodies from air pollution? How to you prevent them from handloading toxic chemicals like formaldehyde from pressure-treated wood on the playground? Dr. Sandra Steingraber is raising the alarm in Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis (Da Capo Press). It might be the most important parenting book you’ll ever read.

Steingraber convincingly posits that it’s not enough to try to protect your children from the countless toxins in our world. We must, as good parents, demand nothing less than an Environmental Human Rights Movement.

Writing, researching, speaking, filmmaking, blogging and testifying, Steingraber is the distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College, and an internationally acclaimed expert on the environmental links to cancer. Her life’s work is dedicated to making us all “cancer-abolitionists.” A biologist by training, Steingraber emphasizes that we enjoy “an exquisite communion not only with the atmosphere, but with hydrological cycles as well.” To quote the promotional trailer of her film, Living Downstream: “These chemicals simply need to be phased out. When carcinogens are released into the environment, some number of vulnerable populations are consigned to death.”

A cancer survivor, Steingraber is a mother of two who left the lab bench to write about scientific evidence for the public. “The disconnect between what we in the scientific community know about carcinogens and what cancer patients are told is huge.”

While her latest work, Raising Elijah, is detailed and sobering, it was written for non-scientists, and therefore not overly technical. By scoping the issues through the lens of family life, chapters such as “Pizza (and Ecosystem Services)”, “The Kitchen Floor (And National Security)” and “Bicycles on Main Street (and High-Volume Slickwater Hydraulic Fracturing)”  she not only makes these complex subjects relatable, she brings them home. The facts are compelling unto themselves, yet her fluid prose is animated with personal anecdotes – all the better to elucidate the connection between corporate poisoning of the biosphere and our burgeoning public health crises.

Raising Elijah also raises hope. Chapters generally conclude with suggested actions we can take to diffuse the imminent crisis, and a full forty pages of her book are devoted to Resources.

Lately, Steingraber is found writing and speaking about hydraulic fracturing, which she views as “the biggest threat to this generation I can think of.” She was a featured plenary speaker at the recent Freedom From Fracking Conference in Philadelphia on September 8. In her testimony to the New York State Legislature earlier this summer, she questioned how a known, highly carcinogenic chemical such a benzene can enjoy the environmental equivalent of diplomatic immunity. She also points to elevated methane levels in drinking water near hydraulic fracturing well sites, which has been proven to be 17% higher once drilling begins. Scientists do not know the health effects of elevated methane in drinking water because it’s never been studied, but we do know that when you chlorinate water that is contaminated with methane you end up with disinfection by-products such as Trihalomethanes, or chloroforms, which are known to cause bladder and colon cancer. She states, and I heartily concur, “This is not a hydrological experiment I am interested in running.”

You can learn more about Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s work at her website, or view the salient excerpts from her testimony in New York, “Fracking: Hydraulic Fracturing 101,” below.

Sandra Steingraber, PhD
Ecologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized authority on the environment links to cancer and human health. Steingraber’s highly acclaimed book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment presents cancer as a human rights issue. Continuing the investigation begun in Living Downstream, Steingraber’s book, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood, explores the intimate ecology of motherhood. Both a memoir of her own pregnancy and an investigation of fetal toxicology, Having Faith reveals the extent to which environmental hazards now threaten each stage of infant development. The Library Journal selected Having Faith as a best book of 2001, and it was featured in a PBS documentary by Bill Moyers.

Called “a poet with a knife” by Sojourner magazine, Steingraber has received many honors for her work as a science writer.  She was named a Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year and later received the Jenifer Altman Foundation’s first annual Altman Award for “the inspiring and poetic use of science to elucidate the causes of cancer.”  The Sierra Club has heralded Steingraber as “the new Rachel Carson,” and Carson’s own alma mater, Chatham College, selected Steingraber to receive its biennial Rachel Carson Leadership Award. In 2006, Steingraber received a Hero Award from the Breast Cancer Fund and, in 2009, the Environmental Health Champion Award from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles. She has testified in the European Parliament, before the President’s Cancer Panel, and has participated in briefings to Congress and before United Nations delegates in Geneva, Switzerland.  Interviews with Steingraber have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, on National Public Radio, “The Today Show,” and “Good Morning America.”

A columnist for Orion magazine, Sandra Steingraber is currently a scholar in residence in Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. She is married to the artist Jeff de Castro, and they live in a 1000-square-foot house with a push mower, a clothesline, a vegetable garden, and two beloved children.

Source: steingraber.com

UPDATE: The week following her Philadelphia appearance, it was announced that Dr. Steingraber is the recipient of The 17th Heinz Award. The Heinz Award in the Environment honors individuals who “like John Heinz, have confronted environmental concerns with a spirit of innovation and who demonstrate the same blend of action and creativity in approaching the protection of our environment.” Dr. Steingraber is dedicating the prestigious honor, which is accompanied by a $100,000 grant, to the fight against hydraulic fracturing.

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2 Responses to “Raising Elijah by Sandra Steingraber: The Thinking Mom’s Environmental Manifesto”

  1. DEP Science Not “Naturally Occurring” « Keep Tap Water Safe Says:

    […] to Heinz Award winning Ecologist and Author, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., when you chlorinate water that is contaminated with methane you end up with disinfection […]

  2. Toxic Treatment: Chlorine vs. Chloramine for Public Water Disinfection « Keep Tap Water Safe Says:

    […] to Heinz Award winning Ecologist and Author, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., when you chlorinate water that is contaminated with methane you end up with disinfection […]

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