Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's New On the Bookshelf?

Many of you probably know Sandra Steingraber for her second book, Living Downstream. Perhaps some of you have seen the film by the same name, featuring this erudite biologist and cancer survivor? Now comes Raising Elijah, a tale of her son’s childhood and the environment.

At the beginning of the story, the author turns down a job offer due to her determination to raise children in a town, presumed to be free of pollution. She and her husband choose an idyllic spot near a lake in upstate New York. By the final chapter, entitled "Bicycles on Main Street and High-Volume Slickwater Hydraulic Fracturing," the couple has realized their hometown is targeted by hydro-fracking companies.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on arsenic, with its description of how the chemical industry re-marketed a poison by inventing pressurized wood, used for children’s playgrounds. That arsenic now leaches out of these playground structures, endangering all kids who touch the wood and put hands in mouth. (Note Norway was the only nation to take action when this information became known.)

The other chapters cover topics that range from what causes asthma to endocrine disruption and hydro-fracking. I had a bit of a problem with the weaving of Elijah’s childhood into the real nitty-gritty, ie. what Dr. Steingraber’s seeks to communicate about environmental risk in today's world. Still, the book was very informative and, at times, lyrical. Take this passage, for instance: “The land that lies above the Marcellus Shale is full of farms and vineyards. It's the state's food shed and wine-growing country. It also contains some of the largest unbroken forest canopy in the Northeast. Fracking, thus, represents the industrialization of a rural landscape. If it goes forward, it will usher in the biggest ecological change since the original forests here were cleared. More than shale will be fractured.”

“Ultimately the environmental crisis is a parenting crisis,” Dr. Steingraber concludes. Indeed, life for young parents has become an obstacle course, with food labels to read, if labels are available, toxins to avoid, whenever risk is known, and fingers to cross that the very air children breathe is not laden with polluted particles that will make them sick later in life.

The sub-title is Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. A dad who reviewed Raising Elijah wrote, "As a parent of two young children I share Dr Steingraber's assessment that protecting my children is primary. I will be giving copies of this book to my elected representatives in the hope that it doesn't take another 40 years to implement policy that is clearly needed to protect children. Well worth reading and sharing with friends. This would be a good choice for book groups and for every school and community library."

Protecting children should not be this difficult. What a shame we have polluted our world to such an incredible degree!